04/08/2007 11:00PM

Johnson's Masters victory pays 150-1

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LAS VEGAS - Tiger Woods didn't shoot a round under par at last week's Masters, but it's a tribute to his greatness that he stayed in contention and was pretty much expected to win the green jacket.

Scoring was at an all-time high, as Zach Johnson won with a 1-over-par 289 to tie the highest score in Masters history. Johnson was pretty much an unknown before shooting a 3-under-par 69 on Sunday to win the championship, and he was among a group of golfers heading into the weekend who hadn't won a major and were trying to beat Woods, who has won an even dozen.

Prior to the tournament, Johnson was available at odds of 150-1 at the Las Vegas Hilton. That's the same price that Jeff Sherman, a Hilton sports book supervisor and golf oddsmaker, had him when he put up the city's first Masters odds last August after the PGA Championship.

"We had some bets on him, and he was as low as 100-1 after some good performances, but we raised him back to 150-1 and closed him there," said Sherman, who said his future book did well with the longshot winning and with so much more money on the top contenders, including Woods, who closed as the 7-5 favorite.

With everyone struggling over the Augusta National course, Woods remained the favorite throughout and was 3-1 heading into Saturday's action despite being five strokes off the lead in 15th place. On Sunday, Sherman put him up as the -175 favorite and lowered him to -150 when bettors were taking other golfers. Note that offshore books had Woods at -120 heading into Sunday, which also helped drive down the odds. But Johnson, who was a 20-1 longshot heading even into Sunday, came away with the upset.

Sherman said the high scoring was good for his book's bottom line. He opened the winning score at 280 1/2 with -110 on each side and it closed with the under 280 1/2 priced at -120 (meaning you could have had over 280 1/2 at even money). Johnson's final score was 289. The over/under for the 36-hole cut was 148 1/2 and it ended up being 152 as the leaders only were at -2 through Friday. The lowest completed round by any golfer was set at 65 1/ 2 and that wasn't threatened as 68 was the lowest anyone could muster. Bettors also lost on the "yes" on whether there would be a hole-in-one and also on a playoff, neither of which happened.

Sherman said his book really cleaned up in individual player props in the first round. Of the 10 players he had listed, nine went over their posted totals. Luke Donald was the only exception. His total was set at 73 1/2 and he shot 73.

"I made them as high as I could on all the players I used," Sherman said, "and some off-shores posted lower numbers, so bettors were taking the unders with me. I knew the course was going to play long but I didn't expect it to be that tough."

But Sherman said he didn't win everything. And it was two separate Woods props that did the damage.

"We had a lot of people take the field at -160 vs. Tiger, but in a prop with Tiger's finish at 2 1/2, more people were on the under," Sherman said. "When he finished tied for second, we basically got middled, which is a rarity in golf. But that's okay. I'm always looking to give people something else to root for."

On Monday morning, Sherman put up his odds for the U.S. Open, to be played June 14-17 at Oakmont Country Club in Pennsylvania. As expected, Woods is the 2-1 favorite. Sherman made Johnson 60-1.

Vegas Grand Prix? Think fortitude

To survive in Las Vegas, you really have to have willpower. You have to learn not to play every slot machine, table game, or race or sports event you come across. You also have to have the willpower to not pig out at every fine restaurant or buffet that you see.

And if you bet the Vegas Grand Prix last Sunday, you really needed to have Will Power - because he won the race at odds of 7-1.

Power, a native of Australia, won by nearly a half-mile on the 2.44-mile course. Robert Doornbus was second while Las Vegas resident Paul Tracy was third.

Despite a few figurative bumps in the road (traffic congestion in the area, lack of shade for spectators), the first Champ Car race of the year was held on the streets of downtown Las Vegas and had to be considered a success. An estimated 40,000 people watched the race in grandstands and along the course, and it was seen live on NBC by many more as virtually a two-hour commercial for Las Vegas.

Long hockey playoffs begin

The Stanley Cup is on ice until June, but the NHL playoffs start Wednesday and Thursday with four games each day.

There definitely will be a new champion since the Carolina Hurricane is the first champ to fail to make the playoffs since the 1995-96 New Jersey Devils. This is the first time in history that both the Stanley Cup winner and runner-up didn't make the playoffs as the Edmonton Oilers also are not in the field of 16. You want more? Well, it is also the first time that as many as four of the original six NHL teams also aren't in the playoffs.

As for who will win Sir Stanley's Cup this year, Las Vegas Sports Consultants has the Buffalo Sabres as the 9-2 favorite, with the Anaheim Ducks and Detroit Red Wings at 6-1, followed by the New Jersey Devils (7-1), Nashville Predators and Ottawa Senators (8-1), San Jose Sharks (9-1), Vancouver Canucks (12-1), Dallas Stars and Pittsburgh Penguins (15-1), Atlanta Thrashers (17-1), New York Rangers and Minnesota Wild (20-1), Calgary Flames (22-1), Tampa Bay Lightning (35-1), and New York Islanders (35-1).

Loyal reader John Kertesz, who certainly follows hockey more than me, offers two possible first-round upsets with the Wild +140 vs. the Ducks and the Rangers +105 vs. the Thrashers. Kertesz says Minnesota's Jacques LeMaire is the best coach in the league and the Wild now has an offense to go with an already solid defense, while the Rangers have a good mix of young players and veterans and play well as a team.