04/02/2006 11:00PM

Mr. Consistent gets over hump


Handicapping tournament players can make a decent living by consistently finishing in the money, but the big payoffs are for those who win.

Joe Corvi, 62, of Newport Beach, Calif., is one of the most consistent players on the tournament circuit. His name can often be found on the leaderboard, but except for a few tournament titles in Reno, he has come up short of the big payday, racking up at least five runner-up finishes over the past decade.

"I'm the Greg Norman of handicapping tournaments," Corvi said, referring to the professional golfer famous for his bout with seconditis.

Corvi was able to close the deal this past weekend, however, by outlasting 693 contestants who put up $500 apiece in the Championship at the Orleans. He won the first-place prize of $110,880.

"This makes it all worthwhile," said Corvi.

Corvi's victory didn't come easily.

Players made 12 mythical $100 win bets Thursday, Friday, and Saturday and earned points based on the parimutuel prices. For the first time, the Orleans posted an updated leaderboard three times a day (11 a.m., 1 p.m., and 3 p.m.), and at the final update Saturday, Corvi's score of 11,358 was there for everyone to target. The updates were roundly praised by most participants, but Corvi wasn't one of them.

"I don't like the updates," Corvi said. "I was a sitting duck. I still had three more bullets, and since I knew everyone would be gunning for me with longshots, I kept playing price horses, too. When I didn't hit any, I thought someone would catch me."

Corvi's score held up, though, but barely. Richard Grose, 48, of St. Charles, Mo., who won a tournament at Churchill last year to qualify for the Daily Racing Form/National Thoroughbred Racing Association National Handicapping Champion-ship, finished with a score of 11,326, just 32 contest points behind Corvi. That margin of defeat is the equivalent of one of his horses paying just 64 more cents to win. Gross won $27,720.

The top 80 finishers cashed, with the top 50 earning automatic berths into the Horseplayer World Series on Jan. 18-20 at the Orleans.

More contests at the Coasts

The South Coast, the newest casino in the Coast Casinos chain, will makes its handicapping tournament debut May 18-19, with the Coast Casinos Turf Club Invitational at the South Coast.

The tournament takes place the Thursday and Friday before the Preakness, with all contestants then invited to a Preakness party that Saturday.

There is a $400 entry fee and a format that will include players making 12 mythical $100 across-the-board wagers each day.

* For locals, the Coasts' Wednesday and Thursday contests, which involve picking the first five races at Santa Anita, return after a week's hiatus. The contest Wednesday, which has a $5 entry fee, has an $8,100 carryover for anyone who goes 5 for 5. The contest Thursday, which has a $10 entry fee, has a $14,110 carryover.

Final Four not so fantastic

Calling last Saturday's Final Four national semifinal games anti-climactic is an understatement.

After an NCAA tournament in which seemingly every game came down to the wire, Florida beat George Mason, 73-58, and UCLA beat LSU, 59-45. Neither game was as competitive as the final scores indicate. They were foregone conclusions from early in the second half.

Florida won as a 6-point favorite, and UCLA won as a 2-point underdog. Both games went under the betting totals. Heading into Monday night's title game, underdogs in the tournament hold a 34-28-1 (55 percent after tossing out the push) advantage. The under holds a bigger edge, at 39-24 (62 percent).

Sports books were happy, with action balanced on Florida-George Mason and money coming in on LSU, which opened at pick-em and was bet to -2. I wasn't happy, since I lost both games and saw my bankroll plays drop to 13-12-1.

Masters tees off Thursday

The Major League Baseball season began this week, and golf will begin its major season with the Masters on Thursday through Sunday.

Not surprisingly, Tiger Woods is the betting favorite at the Las Vegas Hilton, though it is a little surprising that his odds are up to 3-1 after being as low as 9-4. Jeff Sherman, sports book supervisor and golf odds guru at the Hilton, said he raised Tiger's odds because of minimal support.

Phil Mickelson's odds are heading in the opposite direction fresh off his 13-stroke victory in the BellSouth Classic over the weekend. Lefty is now the 6-1 second choice ahead of Ernie Els (9-1), Vijay Singh (11-1), and Retief Goosen (12-1).

Other golfers getting recent support, according to Sherman, are Jose Maria Olazabal (down from 50-1 to 25-1), Stuart Appleby (down from 100-1 to 50-1 off his Mercedes win), and Stephen Ames (down from 150-1 to 50-1 after his Players Championship victory).

Tim Clark and Justin Leonard have both been raised to 125-1 based on poor recent form.