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Kevin Smith

Sports Books Bitten by Tiger

1 August 2002

Golf fans either love or hate Tiger Woods.

The same can be said for bookmakers.

Woods, who earlier this year won half of golf's grand slam by winning the Masters and the U.S. Open, created a stir going into the British Open in July.

When Tiger is in contention to win a tournament, TV ratings soar. If he isn't on the leader board, or not playing at all, interest in events dwindle.

The betting world isn't immune to the Woods phenomenon.

Betting action was at intense levels leading up to the British Open, as Tiger attempted the next step in becoming the first golfer in history to win the Grand Slam. Action became so one-sided that many high-street bookmakers stopped taking in bets on Woods, even despite his near even odds to win.

Mark Davies, a spokesman for leading P2P exchange site, knows Woods gives traditional bookmakers major headaches, but a P2P site, he said, avoids exposure to one side of the action.

"For an exchange, he's perfect because he creates such strongly conflicting opinions, which is what the exchange thrives on," he said. "It also means we always have people who are prepared to offer prices on him when the bookies have closed their books."

For traditional sports books, Woods presents loads of problems because the casual punter heavily backs him.

In a traditional team sport, a bookmaker can protect his assets by maneuvering a line to draw a bettor's appeal to the other side of the bet. With Woods, however, it's different. According to an executive with one of England's biggest bookmaking operations, no matter how lousy the odds are, punters continually put money down on Woods, forcing bookmakers to take him off the board.

Of course, when Woods doesn't win a tournament in those situations, the bookmakers rake in the profits, but Woods has won seven of the last 15 majors played and is showing no signs of slowing down.

"We have to be very careful and cautious when dealing with Tiger Woods," the executive, who chose to remain anonymous, said. "There is a great deal of interest with him, and he is known worldwide. You never want to turn a punter away, but you can't let one guy kill your business for a month."

Bookmakers have to continue taking action on Woods; his appeal is too far reaching not to, the source explained. The challenge, though, will be to find new ways to protect the overall book. He said ideas have been tossed about that would include offering a head-to-head type of bet or grouping other popular players together with better odds.

Thanks to a horrible third round, Woods played himself out of contention to win the British Open, much to the delight of bookmakers everywhere. With the final major of the season, the PGA Championship, two weeks away, bookmakers are strategizing. As the defending champion, and coming off of his performance at the British, Tiger will be the early and odds-on favorite.

That will please some in the bookmaking industry and give others more headaches as they try to accommodate regular and casual bettors alike without sacrificing the bottom line of the business.

"Basically, Tiger is great news for the exchanges," Davies explained, "but understandably the bookies hate him."

Sports Books Bitten by Tiger is republished from
Kevin Smith
Kevin Smith