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Selfish Tiger costs the bookies dear

Rarely can one missed 52-inch putt and one spur-of-themoment concession have caused such betting chaos as did the scenario on the final green of the final match in that stupendously exciting Ryder Cup at Medinah.

You remember it well: the score was 14 points to Europe, 13 to the USA with the Tiger Woods-Francesco Molinari singles to finish. Woods led by one as Martin Kaymer sank the six-footer in the match ahead which guaranteed that the Cup-holders had at least retained the trophy.

After two blows, Molinari was on the green but 30 feet away; Tiger 25 feet away and just off it. The Italian, desperate not to end the week with zero points, hits an over-bold putt four feet past the cup. Woods, even more desperate, you would have thought, to get his first point of a week in which his contribution to the American cause had been pathetic, also hits his third shot too hard and a few inches outside Molinari.

Woods misses, goes several feet past, picks up his ball and nods to Molinari to pick his up as well. The concession means not only the first half-point of the week for the relieved Italian but, far more relevantly, Europe not only keeps the Cup, they have pulled off a miracle victory.

“Very gracious of Tiger to concede that putt” is the Tweet I receive from Clare Balding, the First Lady of TV sport. That’s one, generous way of looking at it. But from where I was sitting, it looked a petulant gesture from a man who has never “got” team golf and never will. His excuse? “[As my team couldn’t win] my putt was useless and inconsequential. So I hit it too quick and gave him the putt as it was already over.”

The cheesed-off Woods also bleated that this was the second time, after The Belfry in 2002, that he had been put out in the last match and the result was decided before he had finished. The charitable view would be that he was so emotionally drained that he forgot all about his teammates’ feelings or the fact that they had worked their butts off to make up for the world No. 2’s inadequacies. But anyone who has read Hank Haney’s book will know that Tiger doesn’t rate team sports. It has to be all about him.

Many will argue that the result was nowhere near decided and that an honourable tie was the least the other, classier Americans deserved. And Europe would have been delighted to give it to them. Make no mistake, the European putt was no gimme and although Molinari was a shade of odds-on to make it, the world was going crazy around him and he’s a nervy character with the putter at the best of times.

Cue carnage at betting HQs throughout the land. A tie and the bookies have the best result since the last dead-heat at The Belfry, in 1989. Very, very few back a tied match. A European victory, on the other hand, costs them the crown jewels as they have been backed at 6-4, 7-4, 2-1 and 5-2 in the build-up, bookmakers taking the view that the Americans on home soil and with their strongest team for many a year, were worthy favourites.

The following will make lovely reading for all those Euro fans who thought the bookies were wrong and backed their judgment with hard cash: Ladbrokes, who had offered 33-1 Europe shortly after 8pm on the last day when Sky’s score projection suggested the result was going to be 16-12 or 15.5-12.5 to the States, lost £650,000.

William Hill, who laid £50,000 worth of Europe at an overthe- odds 5-2 in a special promotion immediately before the match, called it a disaster for £500,000 and “the biggest swing in golf-betting history”. That missed putt, said spokesman Rupert Adams, “worked out at about 100 grand per foot.” Coral were heading for “an ideal result” but ended up losing £400,000. Said spokesman David Stevens: “We were cheering when Kaymer sank that five-footer at the last because we thought it gave us the tie. But Tiger, so often our nemesis over the years, cost us dear again.” BetVictor were the most committed to a USA victory and offered the best price Europe for many weeks in order to encourage support. “We simply couldn’t believe it when Woods conceded that putt,” said spokesman Charlie McCann, speaking from personal loss as he was one of the few to back a tied result. “It must have been nearer five feet than four and was disrespectful to the rest of his team who had fought so hard and must have felt so wretched to lose. Given their complete domination over the first two days, a 14-14 result would have been a bitter pill to swallow but it was a whole lot more acceptable than a loss.” McCann added: “Taking three from the edge of the final green summed up Tiger’s dismal week and when push came to shove, the USA folded like a pack of cards. The whole turnaround cost us well into six figures.”

Elsewhere Stan James said they were £250,000 down, Bet365 called it “our worst golf result ever”, and to spread betting firm Sporting Index it was a “horror story”.

Their spokesman, Wayne Lincoln, groaned: “We were £250,000 up at one stage and ended up £300,000 down. Turnover was huge and everything was going swimmingly, then Justin Rose started it all off with that ridiculous putt on 17 and Tiger’s miss on 18 was the most expensive I can remember in all my years in the business. We made USA favourites for nine of the 12 singles and of course they only won three. It was just brutal and we even took a hit on the top point-scoremarket as Ian Poulter is so popular when it comes to this match.” Have you got those hankies out yet, chaps?

One firm delighted that a one-sided contest turned into a last-gasp thriller was betting exchange Betfair, who take a percentage of all their winning customers’ bets. And when it’s tight, many more wagers are struck. Spokesman Tony Calvin said: “Almost £20 million was traded on the win market alone.”

Looking ahead, Europe are 10-11 favourites to make it three in a row at Gleneagles in 2014, with Paul McGinley backed from 2-1 to 5-4 to be our next leader. Next up with William Hill is Colin Montgomerie at 3-1. Then it’s 6-1 Darren Clarke, 7-1 José Maria Olazábal, 8-1 Paul Lawrie and 10-1 Thomas Bjorn. The announcement will come in January and, for me, there are only two contenders, McGinley and Clarke. Back both and make a profit as the current policy is not to give anyone a second go at the job, which rules out Monty and Ollie.

Bjorn’s turn will come but probably on the continent and while Lawrie in Scotland is an intriguing thought, he will be desperate to play in his homeland and why shouldn’t he? Few golfers actually improve after turning 40 but this cool customer certainly has, and his was another terrific singles performance. Four-win hero Ian Poulter has been slashed to 33-1 at Hills for BBC Sports Personality of the Year on December 16 but in an exceptional year for sport that seems unlikely. Far more plausible is the 14-1 the same firm were offering for our golfing wonders to win the Team of the Year award. The big price is because Team GB (Olympians and Paralympians) are quoted at 1-50. I know which team deserves it but then I'm biased, aren't I?

November 2012

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine


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