05/22/2003 12:00AM

Bettors rewarded for backing Annika


As the first woman to play a PGA event in 58 years, Annika Sorenstam exceeded a lot of people's expectations in Thursday's first round of the Colonial.

She shot a 1-over-par 71 that was closer to being better than worse, as she came up just short on several birdie putts and bogeyed two of the last five holes.

"I thought she would play well, but not this well," said Jeff Sherman, sports book supervisor and golf oddsmaker at the Palms. "I have to take my hat off to her."

Sherman made the over/under on Sorenstam's first round 76 1/2, while other bookmakers in town were as high as 77 1/2.

Increased respect for Sorenstam's game can be seen in the fact that, as of noon Thursday, Sherman was debating whether to make the over/under on Friday's second round at either 73 or 73 1/2.

"We're waiting until after all the players finish the first round to see how low she might have to shoot to make the cut," Sherman said. With most players scoring low (and her sitting in 71st place after her opening round, with many of the top players still out on the course), he said the odds would still be close to 3-1 against her making the cut heading into Friday's action.

Sorenstam certainly had a lot of people pulling for her, both in the galleries at the Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas, and at the sports books of Las Vegas.

"Everyone took her to do well on just about all of our props," Sherman said. "They all wanted to cheer for her."

However, Sherman also said there were some dissenters. He said some bettors came in looking for odds on Sorenstam shooting in the 90's in the first round. The only comparable bet was +130 on her shooting a round in the 80's during the entire tournament.

The first wager to be decided at the Palms on Thursday was a prop on whether Sorenstam would go under par (birdie or eagle) or over par (bogey or worse) first.

After making par on the first three holes, Sorenstam birdied her fourth try (the 13th hole at Colonial, since she started the round on the back nine) to cash for her many backers.

Sherman opened the prop with birdie/eagle at +110 and bogey or worse at -140. The bet closed with birdie/eagle at -220, but it wasn't as bad for the bookmaker as it appears.

"We made the original price based on her starting on the front nine, which has some more difficult holes," Sherman said. "When they announced she would start on the back nine, we shifted birdie/eagle to a -140 favorite, though the bettors kept betting it.

"With this event, we were very aggressive in moving our lines because of a lot of the uncertainty about the playing conditions and other factors. We were moving 30 or 35 cents after a big bet, where in other sports you usually only move a dime."

Despite that line management, Sherman was a little concerned when Sorenstam finished the front nine at -1. A prop at the Palms asked if Sorenstam would have a round in the 60's (1-under par would be a 69). The prop opened with the "yes" at 6-1 and had been bet down to 5-1. Of course, with Sorenstam still playing Friday and possibly into the weekend, Sherman isn't out of the woods yet.

Sherman also dodged a bullet because of a prop that set the over/under at 1 on the number of holes she would have under par. Bettors jumped on the over and were guaranteed of at least a push when Sorenstam got her birdie on the 13th hole (with 14 holes to play). Then, it looked like she would get a second one on the par-3 16th, but her 6-foot birdie putt slid past the hole. That wager ended up being a push.

The over/under on the number of holes she would have above par in the first round was 7, as was the over/under on her highest score on any hole. She was never in danger of approaching either of those numbers as she had only two holes over par, and her highest score on any hole was 5 (her two bogeys on the fifth and ninth holes, both par 4's).

"She was incredibly consistent, which is what she had to do," Sherman said. "The TV coverage showed a lot of guys playing out of bunkers and making mistakes, and she didn't do that."

Despite her relative success and bettors cashing in on early bets, the bottom line won't be determined until the weekend. Sherman said there was an 11-1 ticket ratio on bettors taking Sorenstam to make the cut, though most of those were small tickets by recreational players, while the big bettors tended to lay the price (between -400 and -450) on her missing the cut.

Over at Caesars Palace, bettors were also backing Sorenstam in most of their props, but Chuck Esposito, director of race and sports for Caesars and the rest of the books in the Park Place Entertainment family, said it was good two-way action. And he echoed the feeling of a lot of bookmakers who don't want this increase in golf handle to end.

"We had a great crowd in here this morning with the Colonial on two of our huge screens," Esposito said. "Most of the people were watching that, even after some baseball games started later in the morning. We hope she makes the cut so we can put up more props on her over the weekend."

But even if she doesn't make the cut, bookmakers are happy with the number of people exposed to golf betting for the first time.