For the first time in two decades, Tiger Woods will not be playing in the Masters, as back surgery will keep the world's top-ranked player out at August and for the foreseeable future. "Age 38" suddenly looks bolded, italicized and underlined every time you look at his biography.
For other golfers, though, this means the 2014 Masters will be perceived as the most wide open in recent memory. Sure, Woods hasn't won at Augusta since 2005. And yes, that is nine years. But perception is reality when it comes to pre-tournament hype, and Woods' absence combined with the massive concerns growing about his closest competitors will make for an interesting tournament.
It also makes the Masters unique in another way: It's a major golf tournament in which Tiger Woods is not the favorite.
Don't worry. I'll allot you 12 seconds to catch your breath in the paper bag I've strategically placed next to your keyboard.
Woods' absence leaves a pretty hefty haul for anyone who can correctly guess the winner at Augusta—even among the favorites. No golfer comes in at better than 10-1 odds, per Vegas Insider, and only five players are below 20-1. The field is currently 15-1.
Think about how ridiculous that is for a second. There are more than 90 golfers listed on Vegas Insider's page with individual odds. The possibility of it not being one of those players is more likely than it being all but two of those golfers.
My head hurts.
Anyway, let's take look at the latest betting lines prior to Tuesday's practice rounds and a few tips in case you decide it's worth the monetary risk to make a few bets.
|Rory McIlroy||10-1||Ryan Moore||75-1||Trevor Immelman||200-1||Shane Lowry||500-1|
|Adam Scott||10-1||Gary Woodland||75-1||Miguel Angel Jimenez||200-1||Bernhard Langer||500-1|
|Field (Any Other Golfer)||15-1||Steve Stricker||75-1||Geoff Ogilvy||200-1||Mike Weir||800-1|
|Phil Mickelson||15-1||Jim Furyk||75-1||Martin Laird||225-1||Jordan Niebrugge||1000-1|
|Jason Day||15-1||Hideki Matsuyama||75/1||Charley Hoffman||250-1||Derek Ernst||1000-1|
|Dustin Johnson||15-1||Marc Leishman||100-1||Kevin Streelman||250-1||Garrick Porteous||1000-1|
|Jordan Spieth||20-1||Jamie Donaldson||100-1||Bernd Wiesberger||250-1||Jose Maria Olazaba||1000-1|
|Zach Johnson||20-1||Fred Couples||100-1||Boo Weekley||250-1||Tom Watson||1000-1|
|Brandt Snedeker||25-1||Thorbjorn Olesen||100-1||Ryo Ishikawa||250-1|
|Bubba Watson||25-1||Nick Watney||100-1||Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano||250-1|
|Matt Kuchar||25-1||Ernie Els||125-1||Freddie Jacobson||250-1|
|Justin Rose||30-1||Martin Kaymer||125-1||Lucas Glover||250-1|
|Jason Dufner||30-1||KJ Choi||150-1||Peter Uihlein||250-1|
|Henrik Stenson||30-1||Nicolas Colsaerts||150-1||Carl Pettersson||250-1|
|Charl Schwartzel||30-1||Billy Horschel||150-1||Stewart Cink||250-1|
|Louis Oosthuizen||40-1||Russell Henley||150-1||John Huh||250-1|
|Hunter Mahan||40-1||Thomas Bjorn||150-1||David Toms||250-1|
|Sergio Garcia||40-1||Robert Garrigus||175-1||Sang-Moon Bae||275-1|
|Keegan Bradley||40-1||Peter Hanson||175-1||Jonas Blixt||300-1|
|Harris English||40-1||Paul Casey||175-1||Aaron Baddeley||300-1|
|Jimmy Walker||50-1||Charles Howell III||175-1||Camilo Villegas||300-1|
|Lee Westwood||50-1||George Coetzee||175-1||Retief Goosen||300-1|
|Luke Donald||50-1||Bo Van Pelt||200-1||Alex Noren||350-1|
|Graham DeLaet||50-1||Francesco Molinari||200-1||Luke Guthrie||350-1|
|Bill Haas||60-1||Tim Clark||200-1||Michael Thompson||350-1|
|Webb Simpson||60-1||Vijay Singh||200/-||Brooks Koepka||350-1|
|Angel Cabrera||60-1||Matteo Manassero||200-1||YE Yang||350-1|
|Ian Poulter||60-1||Padraig Harrington||200-1||Darren Clarke||350-1|
|Rickie Fowler||60-1||Branden Grace||200-1||Ken Duke||500-1|
|Graeme McDowell||60-1||Richard Sterne||200-1||Chris Wood||500-1|
Take a Chance on Rory McIlroy
First, an acknowledgement: Betting on the winner of a golf tournament is fundamentally insane. There are infinite variables here.
Most people would agree that Woods is the best golfer in the world and has been for almost two full decades. But he's won exactly as many majors as I have since 2008. The best golfers in the world win about a quarter of the time they tee off. The rest of the time, they do not; therefore, you lose money on them.
So heed this warning: Do not bet on just one golfer. You're bound for disappointment. The odds make it so you could, in theory, bet the same stakes on any 10 golfers and still break even, assuming one of them wins.
No matter your ultimate strategy, one of those golfers should be McIlroy. The 24-year-old Northern Irishman hasn't done much to engender confidence at Augusta during his career—or over the last year in general. His last PGA Tour win was the 2012 BMW Championship. He finished 41st on the PGA money list last season. He's been more likely to miss a cut in a major than finish in the top five.
Given his wildly variable play at Augusta, you could easily poke holes in McIlroy's resume. You really wouldn't even have to try hard.
That said, he's still very, very dangerous. At the Masters, McIlroy is typically borderline brilliant, hanging around the Round 1 leaderboard before moving into full-blown contention heading into the weekend.
Right until things find a way to fall apart in one of the two final rounds.
McIlroy shot 77 in Round 3 in 2012, and he topped that by shooting a 79 a year later. His 80 in the last round of 2011 is still one of the biggest choke jobs of his entire career. A weird sense of doom comes over him every time he steps into an afternoon tee on a Masters weekend.
Again, these are not good things. But a trend is only a trend until it's broken. McIlroy is far too talented to consistently light himself ablaze on a course he so obviously has a good handle for. No real excuse exists for his poor play on weekends. It's not like this is a video game and someone ratchets up the difficulty level from "pro" to "hall of fame."
McIlroy hasn't been perfect on weekends this season—far from it—but he shot a 65 at the Houston Open on Sunday, and he's starting to feel good about his striking, per Ewan Murray of The Guardian:
I have struggled in a few final rounds and a few weekends this year so this is right up there. Even though there wasn't any great pressure on me today, it was still nice to score 65 on a weekend. It means something to finish the tournament off well. I'm hitting the ball well but if you are not putting numbers on the card, it doesn't matter.
We'll see if he means that. But given his talent advantage in a Woods-less field and the fact that he consistently plays well (until he doesn't), McIlroy is worth a shot, even as a "favorite."
Long(ish) Shots Worth a Look
Phil Mickelson (15-1): OK, I lied. He's not a long shot. Lefty + Augusta = Instant Contention. Or it'll all be a miserable failure. Either way. Glad I'm here.
Webb Simpson (60-1): Simpson certainly hasn't played like a major contender of late. He's finished no higher than a tie for 47th in each of his last four stroke-play events, including a 61st-place finish last week in Houston. His best finish at the Masters is a tie for 44th, so he's probably not coming away with a fancy new jacket. Odds of 60-1 are just too good to pass up for one of the best putters on tour, as he could save himself five or so strokes over the course of a week. Simpson's Masters struggles feel more flukish than indicative of long-term trouble.
Harris English (40-1): English has quietly emerged as one of the best golfers on tour this season. He's first in average scoring despite playing an inordinate amount of tournaments. And despite having never played at the Masters, his 15th-place finish at The Open Championship in 2013 proved he's capable of sticking around in the most difficult scenarios.
Sergio Garcia (40-1): Why not? He is only 34 and has been pretty dang good over the past couple of seasons. He consistently finds ways to be in contention at major championships before falling on his face at the worst possible moment. Is it unfathomable that he might, after a decade-and-a-half of trying, finally get over the edge? Remember, it took Mickelson until he was almost 34 to get his first major.
Follow Tyler Conway on Twitter: @tylerconway22.