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ODDS on Tiger in U.S. Open

LAS VEGAS (AP) _ If this city's legal bookies are right, Tiger Woods will shoot 68 or 69 in the opening round of the U.S. Open, while everyone else struggles to break par. By Sunday, it's even money he'll be holding the winner's trophy aloft on the 18th green at Southern Hills.

If anyone still needed proof of Woods' dominance of golf, they need to look no further than the sports books where people actually back their words with cash.

It's there that Woods is the biggest favorite ever to win a golf tournament _ and people are still lining up to put money on him.

``How do you blame them? Every time you bet him you cash a ticket,'' said Jeff Sherman, golf oddsmaker at the Regent hotel-casino sports book.

In a sport where bettors were once used to getting 8-1 odds on the favorite, Woods is an unheard-of even-money pick to win his fifth straight major in the Open.

That means bettors have to put up $10 to win $10, while the same bet on Ernie Els at 20-1 would net a cool $200.

There's no such thing as a sure thing in sports betting, but to many Woods is as close as it gets.

``Even though the return is so small, people think it's almost an automatic,'' said Joe Lupo, sports book director at the Stardust hotel-casino. ``No matter what you make the odds, people still want to bet on him.''

Other people, that is.

PGA Tour rules prohibit players from betting on a tournament, but Woods understands betting from his frequent trips to this gambling city. He knows enough about odds to understand he might not be a good bet.

``Would I put money on me? Probably not,'' Woods said. ``Just because I don't think it would be a good business decision with those odds.''

Though Woods has dominated golf in recent years, the odds of him winning have shrunk more as his streak of major tournament wins grows.

At last year's Open, Woods was a 3-1 pick, but by the Masters this year he had dropped to 3-2. If he wins at Southern Hills, he'll go into the British Open at even shorter odds.

``He's transcended the way golf wagering is evolving,'' Sherman said. ``What he's doing is simply amazing.''

While Woods is an even-money favorite, those chasing him aren't even close at the Regent. Phil Mickelson is next at 8-1, followed by Vijay Singh and David Duval at 12-1.

No one else is better than 20-1, while Woods' former Stanford teammate Notah Begay is 250-1.

It gets even better in the so-called proposition bets. Bettors can wager whether Woods will shoot better or worse than 68 1/2 in the opening round, while no one else is being offered at less than 71.

Mark Calcavecchia may be a top player, but oddsmakers are offering even money that he won't shoot better than 74 1/2 in the first round.

If the odds on Woods scare bettors away, they can also bet on such things as the winning total _ 275 1/2 _ or whether the worst round of the day on Thursday will be over or under 85 1/2.

``This isn't an event a lot of pros bet because it's a tough return,'' Lupo said. ``We get a lot of $20 and $50 bets from people who just want a ticket on the event.''

Of course, some bettors think they know more than the oddsmakers. And in many cases, they're right.

Before the 1997 Masters, the British betting agency Ladbrokes bumped Woods from 10-1 to 16-1.

``We feel that he is highly vulnerable in the Masters and lately has not been hitting the ball as well in the past,'' a Ladbrokes' oddsmaker said at the time.

Woods, of course, would go on to win the Masters by a record 12-shot margin, the first of his six major tournament wins. While he was once 16-1 to win the Masters at Ladbrokes, he is now 6-1 to win all four major championships this year alone.

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