06/10/2001 11:00PM

Tiger burning bright in Open action


LAS VEGAS - Someday we will tell our grandkids about Tiger Woods, and we'll be accused of telling tall tales.

Woods is the tail that wags the dog when it comes to the PGA Tour and also for golf betting. The U.S. Open begins Thursday morning at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Okla., and everyone will be tailing Woods to see what he does next.

At the Regent Las Vegas, which has a solid golf-betting clientele, oddsmaker Jeff Sherman has Woods at even-money. Some books have made him an odds-on favorite (4-5), which isn't surprising since he has won four straight majors. It used to be that a favorite in a golf major would be at least 6-1, because he has to face more than 100 of the best golfers in the world. But Woods has changed the game.

"There's no need to put his odds higher than even-money," said Sherman, a Regent sports book supervisor who is respected around town for his golf odds, "because we still write our share of tickets on Tiger at that price.

"We have 47 players on our board, and we've only written more tickets on four of them [as of Monday morning] despite everyone else having much higher odds. And it's justified from the bettors' standpoint because Tiger is so dominant and he keeps widening his margin of victory."

The Regent has 10 head-to-head player matchups, but Woods isn't included in any of them.

"He's near impossible to use against one guy because the odds would be too lopsided," Sherman said. "Las Vegas Sports Consultants sent out a prop in which he is matched against five guys - and he's still a -180 (you bet $1.80 to win $1) favorite."

But Sherman does have two props involving Woods. The over/under for his first-round score on Thursday is 68 1/2 and the over/under for his finishing position is 2 1/2. Both bets are -115 each way. The finish prop is interesting because you're laying an extra 15 cents to hedge in case Woods finishes second.

"In the Masters, we had the number at 3 1/2 and the bettors who took the under had to lay -160," Sherman said. "It would be higher than that now if we posted 3 1/2. It should be noted that all ties are included, so if Tiger is in a four-way tie for second, the under would still be the winner."

But before you get the wrong idea, there are people betting players other than Woods. Sherman said he has written tickets on every golfer (the odds have been up since the Masters), and some have attracted significant action at high odds.

"We opened David Duval at 15-1 and he has been bet down to 8-1," Sherman said. "Sergio Garcia has also attracted a lot of attention and is now 25-1 after opening at 40-1. A longshot getting some play is Scott Verplank, who opened at 100-1 and is now 75-1. He has been playing well, but the angle on him is he's from Oklahoma. People like to bet the hometown hero."

For those looking ahead, Sherman has already posted odds on the "Battle at Bighorn," a primetime event July 30 on ABC. The team of Tiger Woods and Annika Sorrenstam is a -200 favorite over David Duval and Karrie Webb (+170) in the 18-hole, alternate-shot format.

Odds for the July 19-22 British Open will be posted Monday.

Sports Betting Notes

The Lakers took a 2-1 lead in the NBA Finals with a 96-91 victory over the 76ers on Sunday. Bettors holding tickets on either team were sweating out the end of Game 3. The Lakers were either 4 or 4 1/2-point favorites in Nevada's sports books. In this space Sunday, I recommended taking the 76ers +7 or higher. I was stunned when the line was so low and considered the game unplayable.

For Wednesday's Game 4, the Lakers are again a 4-point favorite and I think the Lakers will win in a rout. The 76ers had every opportunity to win Game 3 (after Derek Fisher and Shaquille O'Neal fouled out) and the Lakers took the 76ers' best punch. The Lakers will carry that momentum and easily cover Wednesday night. If that happens, I would then take the 76ers and the points on Friday night (hopefully a Laker rout helps inflate the line) as the 76ers face elimination. If the 76ers win Wednesday night, I would still take them Friday with the points in a pivotal Game 5.

* The Avalanche won the Stanley Cup Saturday night, 3-1, in Game 7 over the Devils. Sports books suffered some losses in their future books and during the series as the public money came in on the Avalanche, but the tiny amount bet on hockey makes the loss a drop in the bucket for the sports books.

* In Major League Baseball, the American League continued its dominance over the National League this weekend. The AL was 23-19. Last year, the AL held a 136-115 advantage. Interleague play continues through Sunday with the Yankees-Mets, Braves-Red Sox, and (who woulda thunk it?) Twins-Cubs being the most intriguing series.

* There were no major surprises at the French Open as Gustavo Kuerten (the 5-2 favorite) won the men's title and Jennifer Capriati (the 4-1 third choice) was the women's champion. Unlike golf, which spaces out its major championships, Wimbledon starts in less than a fortnight (that's two weeks).

* Jeff Gordon (5-1) won the Kmart 400 for his second straight NASCAR victory and passed Dale Jarrett for the lead in the Winston Cup.