06/13/2004 11:00PM

Golf's Fearsome Foursome


LAS VEGAS - Professional golfers Tiger Woods, Ernie Els, Phil Mickelson, and Vijay Singh will never be mistaken for the L.A. Rams' defensive line of Deacon Jones, Merlin Olsen, Rosey Grier, and Lamar Lundy.

However, Las Vegas Sports Consultants have given them the same nickname: the Fearsome Foursome.

That's the name of a special proposition wager for this weekend's U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in Southampton, N.Y. It pits the top four golfers in their own mini-tourney to see who finishes the best. Woods is the 7-5 favorite, with Els at 2-1 and Mickelson and Singh at 3-1.

Looking at the odds boards around Las Vegas, it's clear to see why those four can logically be separated from the field as they are the only golfers at less than 20-1. Woods is the favorite at anywhere between 3-1 and 9-2, with Els, Mickelson, and Singh available between 6-1 and 10-1 depending on where you shop and how much exposure the book has gotten on a particular golfer.

Jeff Sherman, widely regarded as the top golf oddsmaker in town, left his job as a sports book supervisor at the Palms last Sunday, but he still posts his line at golfodds.com. He has Woods at 4-1, followed by Els at 7-1, and Singh and Mickelson at 8-1.

Sherman dropped Mickelson from 7-1 to 8-1 this past week.

"When I did my head-to-head matchups, I made Els a -130 favorite over Mickelson and downgraded Phil a little," Sherman said. As to why, he added, "Els just fits the U.S. Open mold a little better. In the Open, you need someone who definitely will be hitting fairways. Mickelson, even though he pulled it together in winning the Masters, is more inconsistent. This is the ultimate test of mental toughness."

Now that Mickelson has won the Masters, who now inherits the left-handed compliment of being the "best player to have never won a major?"

"Winning two of the last four events, Sergio Garcia looks to be the one," Sherman said. "He's playing well now, so I lowered him from 25-1 to 20-1 after his win in the Buick Classic."

Garcia won the Buick in a three-way playoff over Padraig Harrington and Rory Sabbatini. Harrington is also at 20-1, along with Davis Love III, while Sabbatini is part of the mutuel field at 6-1.

"I would have put him on the list of individual golfers if he had won," Sherman said.

Retief Goosen and Chad Campbell are 25-1 with Mike Weir and Darren Clarke at 30-1. Everyone else is at least 40-1. One longshot who caught my eye is Fred Couples at 60-1. He finished tied for fourth in the Buick.

"He does have great recent form coming in," Sherman agreed before going into his explanation of why Couples's odds are so high, though he did lower him from 75-1. Sherman pointed out Couples missed the cut in 1995, the last time the U.S. Open was held at Shinnecock, and was 66th in last year's U.S. Open at Olympia Fields in Illinois.

"So he doesn't have the best Open form," Sherman said. "He also has a history of having trouble with his back holding up in adverse conditions. On this course, which is relatively close to the ocean, they're expecting more wind than a normal course gets."

In addition to the standard odds to win the tournament, Sherman has also posted 12 head-to-head matchups - highlighted by the Els-Mickelson, Woods -140 vs. Singh +120, and Garcia -120 vs. Harrington +100 - and a few props such as "will there be a playoff?" with the no -400 and the yes +300 and "will there be a hole-in-one?" with the no -250 and yes +200.

Sherman said the uncertainty of the weather will keep him from posting odds until Tuesday on other props such as an over/under on the winner's score and odds on individual players' scores.

Bettors who want to get involved are reminded to get your wagers in before your sports book closes on Wednesday night. Play will begin Thursday at 7 a.m. Eastern, which is 4 a.m. in Vegas, well before most sports book open.

There is one other prop that Sherman is closely monitoring. It involves how many majors Woods will win this year. He didn't win any in 2003, and didn't win the Masters back in April.

"Even is he's not playing well, there's still interest in Tiger," Sherman said. "When I was at the Palms, we took a lot on him to win the grand slam (all four majors), and when he lost the Masters, people went ahead and bet him to win three."

Sherman's current odds have Woods winning exactly three majors at 50-1. The odds are 8-1 that he wins exactly two, 5-4 that he wins exactly one, and a pretty surprising 1-2 that he wins zero.

Of course, Woods is not as feared as he once was. Otherwise, there wouldn't be any such thing as LVSC's Fearsome Foursome.