04/01/2007 11:00PM

Despite 7-5 odds, Tiger draws plenty of action

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LAS VEGAS - Do you remember those Nike commercials a few years back in which a bunch of people would say "I am Tiger Woods"? Well, if the game of golf could talk, it would say "I am Tiger Woods."

After all, Tiger Woods is golf.

When he doesn't play in a tournament, the TV ratings dwindle and it's harder to find scoring updates during the day or on SportsCenter at night. And the Monday paper doesn't devote as much space to golf when Woods takes a week off. The International dropped from the PGA Tour this year because it couldn't secure a sponsor, primarily because Woods no longer plays in the event.

Woods has the same effect on golf wagering, says Jeff Sherman, sports books supervisor at the Las Vegas Hilton and the top golf oddsmaker in the city.

"There's no doubt Tiger has meant everything in wagering on golf," he said. "If he hadn't come along, golf betting would be a shell of itself. Handle really drops when he's not in a tournament."

That's not a problem this week with the Masters taking place at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Ga., this Thursday through Sunday. The Hilton has Woods as the 7-5 favorite in the first major of the year. But you will note I didn't use the word "prohibitive" before the word favorite. That's because people will be on Woods no matter the price. The Hilton has had odds up on the Masters since after August's PGA Championship, when he opened at 2-1. Sherman actually raised Woods to 5-2 at one point, but then Tiger ran off seven straight victories and his odds kept dropping. Even at 7-5, Woods is still getting plenty of play.

"People just love to bet him and watch him," Sherman said.

Defending champion Phil Mickelson is the distant second choice at 8-1, followed by Vijay Singh at 12-1 and Ernie Els at 15-1, and then another drop-off to the quintet of Jim Furyk, Retief Goosen, Adam Scott, Sergio Garcia, and Geoff Ogilvy at 25-1.

"One of the things that really helps betting on the sport is with the odds on Woods being so low you get good prices on other really good golfers," Sherman said.

As with any big sporting event, the sports books try to capitalize on the interest by increasing handle with a bevy of proposition wagers. The Hilton has 15 head-to-head matchups. In many tournaments, Sherman has avoided using Woods in a head-to-head matchup vs. any individual player because he has been so dominant, but for this year's Masters he put him vs. Mickelson. It's interesting to note that while all of the other matchups are priced at -110 on each side or shaded slightly to make one golfer a -120 favorite over the other, Woods is a -310 favorite vs. Mickelson with Lefty offered at +260.

"This is the largest event of the year, so I tried to put Tiger in as many betting propositions as possible," Sherman said. "With Mickelson winning some majors now and with more people hoping they can get a rivalry going, it made sense to use that matchup."

There is a proposition wager on what the winning score will be with Sherman setting the over/under at 280 1/2 (par is 288 over the four days).

"A few years ago, I would put up 278 or 279, but they keep lengthening the course to keep up with the technology-enhanced equipment that players are using and we see the scores rising," said Sherman, pointing out that Mickelson won last year's tourney with a 7-under par 281.

Other generic props include what score will make the 36-hole cut (148o1/2), lowest completed round by any golfer (65 1/2), will there be a hole in one (the "no" is favored at -180 with "yes" offered at +160), and will there will a playoff ("no" is -300 while "yes" is +250).

There are also props on individual players, such as what their first-round score will be Thursday (Woods is set at over/under 71 1/2), on a player's finish position (Woods is set at over/under 2 1/2, with the over at -125 and the under at +105), and whether a player will make the cut.

Sorry, bridge-jumpers, there is no price offered on Woods in that last category as he has missed only two cuts in his pro career.

Final Four recap

The NCAA tournament stayed true to form last Saturday as No. 1 seeds Florida and Ohio State won their games and advanced to Monday night's title game.

Florida, which the selection committee rated as the top seed of the entire tournament, dominated UCLA in a 76-66 victory that wasn't as close as the final score indicated. The Gators, after a slow start, were never in danger of not covering the 3-point spread. The game also cruised over the total of 130 1/2.

In the other semifinal, Ohio State had a harder time disposing of No. 2 seed Georgetown, but came through in the end with a 67-60 victory. The line on this game opened pick-em at most books and bettors made Georgetown a slight favorite. The game finished under the total of 130 points, though there was a last-second 3-point attempt that had totals bettors on the edge of their seats.

Heading into Monday's championship game, in which Florida was favored by 5 points with a total that opened as low at 135 and was steamed to 141, favorites were 32-26-4 with unders holding a slim edge of 31-30-1.