As Tiger Woods chunked and skulled his way to a missed cut last week at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, there was a large sense of disbelief. There were questions left unanswered, and there was uncertainty about what next to expect.
For one man, though, there was work to do.
Jeff Sherman is the assistant manager at the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook and a one-man band when it comes to setting and adjusting weekly betting odds for golf tournaments. As Woods misfired on chip after chip, Sherman knew that he would have to adjust his odds for the Farmers Insurance Open.
But how, and by how much? Setting prices on golfers to win PGA Tour events is a soft science, but even more so when it comes to the most popular player in the game.
“He’s the one guy that’s the most tricky because over the years, no matter how poorly he’s playing, people back him,” said Sherman, who has been creating golf odds at Westgate since 2004. “I could put him at 20/1 and if his name didn’t say ‘Tiger Woods,’ he could have been listed at 80/1. But you just get that type of action on him.”
Sherman had listed Woods at 20/1 to win last week in Phoenix, and he knew that number would be going up significantly for this week’s event. His usual process starts by surveying the field list upon its release the Friday prior to gauge its overall strength. From there, he’ll factor in a player’s current form and his past history at a given venue.
Track records don’t get much better than Woods’ profile at Torrey Pines, where he has seven Farmers titles in addition to his 2008 U.S. Open win. His short-game struggles were so troubling, though, that Sherman basically had to ignore his past success while assigning odds of 50/1.
“Obviously he’s going to a course he’s had tremendous history on, but you have to find a certain weight between history and current form,” he told GolfChannel.com on Tuesday. “The current form is throwing his history out the window this week.”
Sherman’s goal in setting odds is not to offer a prediction on the event, but simply to generate a balanced level of wagers. The key for him is finding a number that will attract bettors, but not one that will create a significant liability for the house should the player win.
“We’re pushing to get the action, but the problem is if I was less or much less (than 50/1 on Woods), I don’t think I’d get many bets at all based on what everyone saw,” he said. “I’m just trying to find the number to get the action.”
To understand the new depths reached this week, it helps to remember the heights once achieved by Woods – even from a betting standpoint. The last four times he has played this event, his highest pre-tournament odds with Sherman were 7/1 in 2013. He went on to win that event by four shots.
Back in 2008, he was listed at even money (1/1) to win the Farmers, which he did. After winning each of his first three starts to begin the year, he then played Doral as a massive 10/13 favorite, meaning bettors had to lay $13 to win $10.
Even at the 2010 Masters, when Woods was making his return from a scandal and surrounded by more questions than answers, he still had lower odds than any other player in the field at 11/2. Just last year, he was listed as a 2/1 favorite at Torrey Pines.
“The crazy thing was that I opened the odds at 5/2 and I took a large wager on him to drive the odds down to 2/1,” Sherman recalled.
But now, with his swing still a work in progress and his short game nowhere to be seen, Woods opened at 50/1. It’s the highest number Sherman has ever assigned to the 14-time major winner, surpassing his 30/1 pre-tournament odds at last year’s PGA Championship.
Sherman’s focus also extends beyond this week’s event along the California coast. He posted full-field odds to win the Masters back in August, listing Woods at 12/1 behind only Rory McIlroy (5/1). This weekend’s result caused him to make his first adjustment to Woods’ odds for Augusta, dropping him to 20/1 alongside Phil Mickelson and behind Bubba Watson, Adam Scott and Jordan Spieth at 15/1.
“With it being that far out and with him having the ability to get some tournament golf under his belt before it happens, you just can’t be overly aggressive,” he said. “He has that extra time to be able to prep and get his form up, so you make the adjustment but you just don’t make too large of an adjustment this far out.”
As expected, Woods’ lofty price has drawn attention from the Las Vegas betting community. Sherman released his Farmers odds on Monday, and less than 24 hours later Woods had surpassed Mickelson as the player with the most wagers. Sherman is confident that trend will continue into Wednesday, when his sports book receives an estimated 80 percent of its golf wagers, and that Woods will ultimately lead the ticket count this week.
While Sherman had kept his odds on Woods steady at 50/1 despite an early influx of wagers, he moved them to 40/1 by Tuesday evening. Some offshore outlets were even quicker to adjust their prices; BetOnline.ag opened Woods at 50/1 to win on Monday and was offering him at 33/1 Tuesday, while Sportsbook.ag and Bovada.lv had both trimmed Woods to 30/1.
Dave Mason, a manager at BetOnline.ag, noted that their potential liability on Woods is 20 times higher than that of their next biggest exposure, Dustin Johnson.
"Although public action has decreased on Tiger the last couple of years, he is by far our biggest exposure this weekend due to the very long odds," Mason said.
Sherman doesn’t foresee the odds on Woods getting much higher than their current level when he makes his next start, which is expected to be the Honda Classic later this month.
“If he makes an improvement and just barely misses the cut, you’ll probably see a decrease in his odds. People will think he’ll be able to gain more next time,” he said. “For an increase to happen, he’s going to have to finish a couple spots higher or right about where he finished (last week) for things to really go up much more.”