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It's all hype with Tiger, say the bookies
The former world No. 1 returned to the winner's circle at the last gasp in 2011 but the bookmakers are not at all convinced. When it comes to the majors, 2012 is odds on to be all about golf's young generation

Tiger's back – or is he? One struggling win over a man 44th on the US Money List hardly amounted to a ringing endorsement for the new, slowmotion Woods who seems to have lost all his spontaneity on the course now that he is trying to obey instructions from his latest coach, Sean Foley.

Many normally sane journalists and broadcasters Tweeted their glee that he had finally won a tournament but where were the four top-ranked golfers in the world or even the two best US golfers, Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson? Certainly not at the weakest Chevron World Challenge for many a year and, boy, didn’t Tiger make hard work of it. Respect for the two birdie putts he produced under pressure just when it looked as if he was destined for second place (as in 2010 against G-Mac), but for the rest it was the usual mix we have come to expect from the former world No. 1 these days – army golf off the tee, some woeful decision- making and distance control, and a balky putter.

Someone has to be worth backing for the majors and for me it's Donald, Scott, Schwartzel and McIlroy for the first big one and all year long. And Tiger, 36 years old going on 50, for none of them

No wonder Ladbrokes’ odds assessor Brad Barry declared: “We’ll be happy to take him on next year. I don’t think he’s going to win a major, and I’d be pretty sure he will be a bigger price than his current 6-1 for the Masters when April comes round. There are so many very good players who will backed to beat him. I’m just surprised how many supposed good judges have been drawn along with all that ‘Tiger is back’ stuff. They are seeing what they want to see, not what is actually happening.

“We think he is still a long way behind Europe’s best players and it’s an insult to those who have toiled long and hard all year for their ranking to see him jump from 52nd to 21st in the ratings on the strength of beating 17 decent-but-not-great golfers in a tournament that wasn't open to all.”

If you fancy Woods to win his 15th major in 2012, Ladbrokes will be pleased to lay you 5-2 and they are 1-3 that he doesn’t win one.

But it was Tiger who, as the last leg of a favourites’ treble stretching across three continents, was the toast of many punters for pulling the Chevron out of the fire. It was carnage weekend for the bookmakers with first Rory McIlroy winning at 5-1 in Hong Kong, then Lee Westwood repeating last year’s Nedbank runaway at 7-2 and finally (but unconvincingly) Tiger edging home at 3-1 in California.

That was a 107-1 treble with Ladbrokes and some cleverclogs even put Mark Calcavecchia, the 5-1 winner of the Nedbank Senior Challenge, into a £10 yankee with the obvious three (that’s 11 bets, 6 doubles, four trebles, 1 accumulator). That paid for Christmas and then some with a return of £13,260.

Another firm, Bet365, were even harder hit with the same four players backed in a £50 accumulator that worked out at 475-1 and paid almost £24,000. But nothing compared with Paddy Power’s misery. The Irish firm reported losses of £500,000 on the week, with one customer getting £52,000 of it thanks to his £500 McIlroy-Westwood-Woods treble.

Bet365 have put up an interesting bet on which of those three is next to win a major and go 5-4 Woods, 2-1 McIlroy, 9-4 Westwood. The bet stands for three years and if, by then, not one of them has prevailed then stakes will be returned. That’s fine as long as you are going to be here on January 1, 2015, but for some of us old'uns that's a long way off!

One kind friend gave me a £70 bet on Luke Donald at 18-1 to win the Masters for my 70th birthday present so I’m biased right away. It’s a worry, of course, that the 2011 Augusta finish was fought out by three bombers, Charl Schwartzel, Jason Day and Adam Scott, which is why Donald’s 284 yards off the tee could be ten yards too little for that major. Fortunately, lack of power never stopped Nick Faldo, Mark O’Meara, Zach Johnson (who birdied 11 out of 16 par fives without ever trying to reach one of them in two blows) or Mike Weir, and our man Luke is a fair bit longer than some of those. So hope springs eternal even if Ladbrokes’ man Barry was far from encouraging: “The plain truth is that, despite all the wonderfully consistent golf he played all year, it took Donald until the very last tournament of the year, the Disney, to win a strokeplay event in the States.”

So that’s a no, then. But somebody has to win those darned majors, don't they? “We're looking at younger players like Webb Simpson and Gary Woodland coming through, not as good golfers as Donald or Westwood but capable of making things happen. We feel that Donald and Westwood have had plenty of chances and haven't taken them,” added Barry.

What about back-to-form men like Sergio Garcia and Paul Casey then? “Fragility of nerve comes into it with Garcia. Like Westwood, he seems mentally scarred by the majors. Casey’s putting wouldn’t be good enough to win a Masters and he has trouble leaving one bad shot or one bad hole behind.”

Mickelson? “These days it seems as if the Masters is his one real chance but he is capable of proving everybody wrong.” Rickie Fowler then? “Needs to improve his course management. Always liable to throw in a seven.”

Day? “He has certainly caught the public imagination in finishing second at the first two majors but he is underpriced now considering how often he actually gets over the winning line.”

Schwartzel? “Hopefully, he won’t go the same way as his mate Oosthuizen and go off the boil after winning a major. He did well enough in the later ones though to suggest he is a big-occasion player worth following."

And we haven’t even mentioned Adam Scott, Martin Kaymer or Rory McIlroy. Nor Nick Watney and Dustin Johnson. Someone’s worth backing and for me it’s Donald, Scott, Schwartzel and McIlroy for the first big one and all year long. And Tiger, 36 years old going on 50, for none of them.

We shall just have to wait and see.

January 2012

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine


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