03/20/2008 12:00AM

Betting opportunities not limited to tourney


The NCAA men's basketball tournament is the talk of the sports and sports-betting worlds this weekend. Coverage of that event can be found most everywhere (plus, the tourney is well under way by the time you'll read this), so let's look at other betting opportunities around the sports world.

* Recreational golf bettors, especially those who just go to the window and say "give me Tiger Woods to win the tournament" without any regard for the odds, have been cleaning up lately as he has won the last seven events he has entered (six official PGA stops plus the unofficial Target World Challenge in a field of 16). No matter how low the oddsmakers make the price on Woods, the public keeps betting him and cashing. In this weekend's WGC-CA Championship, with a field of 79, the Las Vegas Hilton had Woods as the prohibitive (or not-so-prohibitive) 2-3 favorite before the tourney started Thursday. Phil Mickelson, not a bad golfer himself, was a distant second choice at 15-1. Woods's current hot streak has also lowered his odds for the April 10-13 Masters from 2-1 last fall to 5-6 against the most elite field assembled each year. Mickelson is 10-1, with Ernie Els at 20-1, Vijay Singh at 30-1, and Jim Furyk at 35-1. The Hilton also has Woods down to the ridiculously low price of 4-1 to win all four majors (Masters, U.S. Open, British Open, and PGA Championship) this year.

* Forget about the major league baseball regular season starting in April this year. The first pitch will be thrown this coming Tuesday when the Red Sox and A's open the season in Japan. The defending champion Red Sox are the future-book favorite at 9-2 at the Hilton, with the Mets the second choice at 5-1. The usually favored Yankees are co-third choice with the Tigers at 6-1, followed by the Cubs who are trying to repeat as '08 World Series champions (having last won it all in 1908). Their odds are 8-1. Coincidence or fate?

* The Rockets have been the talk of the NBA lately, with their 23-game winning streak. However, they are still no better than the seventh betting choice to win the title. The Celtics, who blew out the Rockets to snap the streak, are the co-favorites with the Lakers at 5-2, followed by the Spurs at 6-1, the Pistons at 7-1, the Suns at 10-1, the Mavericks at 12-1, and then the Rockets and Jazz both at 15-1.

* Even after the Sprint Cup (formerly Nextel Cup and the Winston Cup before that) circuit left town three weeks ago, auto race betting continues to thrive here. Jeff Burton won last Sunday's Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway as the 11th betting choice at Station Casinos at 18-1. There is no race this weekend, which is probably a good thing with so much of Nascar nation also heavily into college basketball. The next Cup race is the Goody's Cool Orange 500 on March 30 at Martinsville Speedway. The Las Vegas Hilton has teammates Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon as the co-favorites at 5-1, with Tony Stewart and Kyle Busch at 7-1, and Denny Hamlin at 8-1. Hilton oddsmakers have the season-long Chase for the Cup up for grabs, with Johnson, Gordon, and Stewart all at 6-1; Carl Edwards, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Busch at 7-1; and Matt Kenseth at 8-1.

* On to horse racing. War Pass's last-place finish in the Tampa Bay Derby not only dropped him to 8-1 in the Kentucky Derby future book at Wynn Las Vegas, but also made Pyro an even more solid favorite at 5-2. (Of course, that could also mean Wynn bet taker John Avello doesn't want any more action on Pyro.) Heading into this weekend, Colonel John is the third choice at 10-1, with Denis of Cork and El Gato Malo next at 15-1.

* If none of those are "future" enough for you, or if you just crave the king of all wagering sports, NFL betting has been heating up here in Sin City. The odds to win the Super Bowl have been up for months but now - even with restricted free-agent signings going through April 18 and the draft not until April 26-27 - the Venetian has posted its over/under season win totals for all 32 teams. The prices attached to the overs and unders will vary, but the number of wins for each team should remain solid, at least until more books post them. It should be no surprise that the Patriots, off their 16-0 regular season, have the highest over/under at 12 1/2. The Colts and Cowboys are both at 11; the Chargers and Jaguars are at 10 1/2; Seahawks, Steelers, Eagles, and defending champion Giants are all at 9; and the Packers and Saints are 8 1/2 as the last teams projected above .500. The Titans, Browns, and Vikings are at 8, with the biggest list of teams at 7 1/2 comprising the Buccaneers, Redskins, Cardinals, Texans, Panthers, Bengals, Broncos, and Bears. The Jets and Lions are at 7, followed by the Bills, Ravens, and Rams at 6 1/2; the 49ers at 6; the Chiefs and Dolphins at 5 1/2; and the Raiders and Falcons at 5.

* One final horse racing note since this bi-weekly column won't appear again until Saturday, April 5: The Handicapping Championship at the Orleans takes place April 3-5 with a $500 entry fee. For years, the Orleans hosted the richest tournaments in town until the Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship saw its purse rise to $1 million this past year, with a top prize of $500,000. The Handicapping Championship at the Orleans is expected to have a purse of $350,000. In addition to the prize money paid to the top 80 finishers, the top 50 will qualify for the Horseplayer World Series. For further information, call (888) 566-7223.