Golf is not historically a sport that begets insatiable action at the Vegas sportsbooks.
The combination of a massive field and unpredictability makes it a losing proposition for bettors and a massive windfall for sportsbooks. While the high odds even for favorites are oftentimes enticing, golf remains far less predicable than just about any other major professional sport. In turn, folks bet sparingly on the sport (if at all) and usually wager small sums when doing so.
All four majors remain the exception. Even seasoned bettors cannot help themselves, and the beginning of the 2013 Masters will be the first evidence of that phenomenon and perhaps its best. After all, what other sporting event can net a seller $9,500 simply for a chance to walk around for four days?
As such, handicapping the Masters takes great importance in the lead-up to the tournament. Odds cannot skew too far into the ridiculous spectrum, or sportsbooks may be looking at a massive payout to an underlying contender.
For favorites, setting the lines is all about achieving a happy medium. The point of setting a line for a sportsbook is ostensibly to get equal action on each side to ensure a profit. With guys like Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy, that's especially tricky due to the public's propensity to bet hard on the names they know.
How did this year's odds play out? Here is a complete breakdown of the favorites' odds as we head into Thursday's action. (Note: All odds are courtesy of Bovada.)
Tiger Woods (7/2)
A prohibitive favorite just about every time he steps on the Augusta links, Woods is arguably off to his best start to a PGA Tour season in half a decade. He has won three of the four stroke-play competitions he's entered thus far in 2013, with the only exception being a frustrating Honda Classic performance in February.
Otherwise, Woods has been every bit the brilliant auteur of precision and bombast that made him possibly the greatest golfer of all-time. He's finally back at the mountaintop, reclaiming the world's No. 1 ranking for the first time since 2010 back in March.
What's been most notable about Woods' season thus far is his brilliance with the short stick. Only Kevin Na is averaging fewer putts per hole than Woods, resulting in a very nice 55.6 save percentage. It also doesn't hurt that Woods is hitting eagles at a rate that dwarfs his competition and has a scoring average of 68.33 for the season—nearly a full stroke
Woods' other major deficiency, spraying shots to who knows where off the tees, remains a problem. Though Woods is striking the ball beautifully at 295 yards per drive this season, he's still below average in the accuracy department. He's hit 55.8 percent of fairways this year, which ranks a dreadful 147th out of 187 eligible golfers and is a full 4 percent worse than the PGA Tour average.
Perhaps that's what has made Woods' odds dip a bit as the week has progressed. He opened at 3/1 odds but has since moved back to 7/2. Though that still makes him a massive favorite over the field—other player odds have moved back too—it also means that bettors aren't hammering El Tigre the way most expected.
The reason for that is pretty obvious. Woods has not won a major championship in nearly five calendar years and has gone without a green jacket every year since 2005. This is a guy who has been a top-six finisher in every year (save for 2012) since his last triumph—not one who actually finishes Sunday in the lead.
Woods' chances are arguably greater than at any point since 2009, but even 7/2 odds are a little dicey in such a rich field of competitors.
Phil Mickelson (12/1)
There is perhaps no greater golf staple remaining in the country than Phil Mickelson being excellent at the Masters.
No course brings out vintage Lefty the way Augusta does. It's where he's won 75 percent of his career major championships, including his first nine years ago, which finally ended the relentless "Will Phil ever win the big one?" questions. It's where Mickelson greeted his wife Amy, who was making her first appearance at an event since being diagnosed with breast cancer, with a tender embrace after his 2010 victory.
Augusta is a place of triumph and Nicholas Sparks-level internal melodrama for Mickelson. No matter how poorly he's playing, he always ends up contending for a green jacket on Sunday. He's finished outside the top five just once since 2008 and has been inside the top 10 on the final leaderboard in 12 of the past 14 years.
Mickelson, as they would say if he were a major professional sports team, is an Augusta institution.
While that makes Mickelson an understandable favorite, Lefty is playing some pretty inconsistent golf heading into this weekend. He finished 16th at the Shell Houston Open in his most recent event, but that was preceded by a missed cut at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and a schizophrenic group of finishes throughout January and February.
That being said, Mickelson has come into Augusta struggling far worse and come out smelling like a rose. He'll be just fine this weekend.
The biggest factor working against Mickelson is arguably his age. Lefty will turn 43 in June, and Augusta has tended to skew younger with its champions. One can easily remember Jack Nicklaus winning at age 46, but the average age of a Masters champion is 31.55 years old—over 11 years Mickelson's junior.
Advancements in medicine and workout habits of players (obviously) make it easier to win a major championship at 42 this year than in, say, 1950. But this is still a course that begs for in-your-prime excellence.
Like Woods, Mickelson is a near guarantee to be looming on Sunday. Whether he can actually win the tournament is another question entirely.
Rory McIlroy (12/1)
If the Masters were a two-round tournament, McIlroy would already have a green jacket in his closet. The 23-year-old Northern Irishman has been sensational on Thursday and Friday at Augusta, carding an overall score of 14 under over the past two years, including his 10-under start in 2011 that made him look like he would lap the field.
Bettors who want to load up on early-round excellence from McIlroy could probably do so and clean up on Thursday and Friday.
His problem, however, comes from the fact that they play four rounds at Augusta—and McIlroy has been miserable in the final two. Over the past two years, McIlroy has shot 15 over par on the weekend with just one of those four rounds coming with a score below 76. He finished last year's tournament with a 77-76 finish that left many wondering whether he could mentally handle an Augusta weekend.
McIlroy hasn't done much to show an increased maturity level in 2013. Languishing well past the cut line in February's Honda Classic, McIlroy withdrew in disgust after going seven over par heading into his ninth hole.
"I'm not in a great place mentally," McIlroy said after the round (per ESPN). "I can't really say much, guys. I'm just in a bad place mentally."
He later apologized for his actions, but the reputation damage was done. Plenty inside the golf media and in the mainstream questioned the young star's intellectual maturity again—for just about the billionth time in his career.
While McIlroy's play has improved of late, and he quite nearly won the Texas Open a week ago, those lingering questions make him as big of a wild card as any player in the field. It's possible that McIlroy laps the field; he has more talent at this point than any golfer, including Woods. It's also possible that he careens off a cliff, throws a hissy fit and finishes his weekend at Chuck E. Cheese's with the rest of the children.
So, good luck deciding which extreme will take place, bettors.
Other Notable Betting Odds: Justin Rose 20/1, Keegan Bradley 22/1, Dustin Johnson 22/1, Adam Scott 25/1, Brandt Snedeker 28/1, Luke Donald, Bubba Watson 33/1.