04/04/2004 11:00PM

It's no longer Tiger vs. who cares


Earlier in this century, when Tiger Woods was at the peak of his powers and bettors would blindly bet him and still cash ticket after ticket, oddsmakers couldn't set the odds low enough.

No matter what the opening price, you would always see the odds on Woods drop leading up to a tournament, especially the majors in which he has excelled.

Well, even though he was the PGA's player of the year again last year, we're seeing the end of the public's blind faith. Jeff Sherman, a sports supervisor at the Palms who is the most highly regarded golf oddsmaker in town (and even has his own website at golfodds.com), opened Woods last summer as the 5-2 favorite for The Masters, which is being held this Thursday through Sunday at Augusta National Golf Club.

As of Monday morning, Sherman had Woods up to 7-2.

"Obviously, he's not dominating like he once was," Sherman said. "He hasn't won since the Match Play Championship [Feb. 26-29] and has shown that he isn't as intimidating in stroke play. When he finished 46th at Bay Hill [March 18-21] - a tournament he had won four straight years - that's when I raised him to 7-2."

One of the most popular golfers with bettors, even though he's never won a major, is Phil Mickelson. His odds opened at 20-1 last summer, but now he's the second choice at 6-1.

"Phil always plays great at Augusta," Sherman said. "He's usually in the top three every year. He's the hot commodity the way he's been playing, and we've seen steady action on him. The biggest move [in the odds] was after he won the Bob Hope [Jan. 22-25]. I wouldn't be surprised to see him finally win a major."

Sherman said he has the most tickets written on Mickelson, along with John Daly, who opened at 150-1 last year and is now at 40-1.

"Daly has always been popular with the public, and ever since he won the Buick Invitational [Feb. 12-15], he has been solidly backed."

Sherman said other golfers the public has bet down include Chad Campbell from 40-1 to 15-1, UNLV product Adam Scott from 50-1 to 25-1, and Stuart Appleby from 100-1 to 40-1.

"Scott and Campbell are two young guns with enormous potential, so their odds are adjusted more quickly downward than upward," Sherman said.

After Woods and Mickelson, the other top contenders are Vijay Singh (7-1), Ernie Els (9-1), and Davis Love III (14-1).

Dogs sweep Final Four (vs. spread)

Regardless of the outcome of Monday night's NCAA championship game, this year's tournament was full of excitement and had two great national semifinals.

On Saturday, Georgia Tech's 67-65 upset of Oklahoma St. as a 5-point underdog and UConn's 79-78 non-covering win as a 2 1/2-point favorite over Duke were two for the ages. Okay, it's debatable whether they'll be shown years from now on ESPN Classic, but they were great games that went down to the wire and left viewers - and especially bettors - on the edge of their seats.

Both games worked out for my published selections. I had the two underdogs from the ACC and improved my bankroll plays to 19-10 (65.6 percent) for the tournament.

Georgia Tech was in control throughout before Oklahoma St. rallied to make a game out of it. The only fear was if the game went to overtime and OSU had a great run to get the cover. The score was tied, 65-65, but Will Bynum's driving layup with 1.5 seconds left won it for the Yellow Jackets.

The marquee matchup between Duke and UConn played out similarly. The Blue Devils built a big lead, but when they didn't put the Huskies away it left the result in doubt, especially in relation to the point spread. Duke led 75-67 with 3:09 remaining, but UConn scored 12 straight points and actually were covering, 79-75, after Emeka Okafor made the second of two free throws with 3 seconds left. Duke threw the ball to halfcourt, and Chris Duhon tossed up a running shot from 35 feet away. CBS announcer Jim Nantz said, "It doesn't matter," but it sure mattered to a lot of his viewers. The ball banked off the glass and into the basket to make the final score 79-78, which covered the spread for Duke bettors.

Heading into Monday's championship game, underdogs were 34-28 (55 percent) for the tournament. As you can imagine, that has been pretty good overall for the sports books in Las Vegas. Most of the late money Saturday came in on the two favorites, Stardust race and sports book director Bob Scucci said, and the favorites were used in a majority of the parlays.

The dog/under parlay cashed on the Georgia Tech-Oklahoma St. game - the total was 139 - but the Duke-UConn game really was a winner for the books, because not only did the UConn bettors lose wagers on the spread with Duhon's shot, but the even-more-popular favorite/over parlay was broken up. That game went well over the closing total of 145 1/ 2, but more books had UConn parlayed to the over than Duke.

Hockey season heats up

It is amazing how the seasons roll along. The NCAA tournament wrapped up Monday. Baseball season got started last week in Japan and started here in the States with opening-day games this week. Now, the NHL postseason begins Wednesday with eight first-round matchups.

Oddsmakers were still putting together odds Monday morning for the opening games and adjusting their future-book odds for the Stanley Cup.

I would never pass myself off as a hockey expert, but I generally try to look for underdogs with goalies that can get hot. In playoff hockey, goals are at a premium, and if you can catch a goalie who gets on a roll, it can be profitable.

I'll be checking lines on the Montreal Canadiens (Jose Theodore) vs. Boston Bruins; New Jersey Devils (Martin Brodeur) vs. Philadelphia Flyers; St. Louis Blues (Chris Osgood) vs. San Jose Sharks; and the Calgary Flames (Miikka Kiprusoff) vs. Vancouver Canucks. Those are all higher-seeded teams that could offer value, with the Flames being my pick as the most likely underdog to move on to the next round.

College hockey wrapping up, too

The Frozen Four, college hockey's equivalent of March Madness, is this Thursday at the FleetCenter in Boston, with the championship game to be played Saturday.

Minnesota-Duluth is a -170 favorite (bet $1.70 to profit $1) to beat Denver in the first semifinal at noon EDT Thursday, and Boston College a slight -120 favorite vs. Maine at 6 p.m. EDT.

Despite being a shorter price in the semis, Boston College is the favorite to win at 6-5, according to odds by Las Vegas Sports Consultants. Minnesota-Duluth and Maine are each at 7-5, and Denver is at 4-1.