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Tour players, bettors like Tiger Woods' chances at Masters

Baltimore Sun

ORLANDO, Fla. - Within an hour of Tiger Woods' announcement last week that he would return to play the Masters, a prominent British bookmaker installed him as the 4-to-1 favorite.

Four-to-1 for a guy who hasn't been fitted for a green jacket since 2005, who has not played a competitive round in four months, who just might be reminded of his personal flaws as he takes back the blade on a hellacious 6-footer? (TIGER is a CHEETAH T-shirt sold separately.)

Seems absurd to me - and to a chunk of players on the PGA Tour. Of course, they think his odds actually should be lower.

"I'd give him 50-50," Billy Mayfair said from the practice range at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. "One, it's the intimidation factor. Two, you have to remember: Even though the crowds at Augusta will be very sedate and appreciative, they're still going to be loud. I think it will affect other players more than Tiger."

Said Paul Goydos: "Every time we underestimate the guy, he exceeds those expectations. And I expect him to exceed them this time too."

How about the fact that he whiffed on the majors last year, going 0-for-4?

"So I would say he's due," Goydos replied.

The betting public seems to agree, reflected in lowered odds at (3-to-1) and (2-to-1!).

The general public seems more skeptical, based on a poll. The results: 22 percent expect Woods to win, 40 percent believe he'll finish in the top 10, 28 percent have him making the cut but not contending and 10 percent say he'll pack his bags before the weekend.

Mike Weir believes the 4-to-1 odds are "just about right."

"I don't think you'll see much drop-off in his game," said the 2003 Masters champ. "They say he hasn't been working. I bet he has been practicing, visualizing, working on his stroke in his room."

One reason for all the optimism: Reports that Woods, more buff than ever, is hitting it 30 yards longer off the tee during practice sessions at Isleworth Country Club.

"He's absolutely killing it," said Arjun Atwal, who has made 55 cuts on tour.

Said John Cook: "I don't see anybody hit the ball like he does. If he takes that game up (to Augusta), I'd be hard-pressed to see anybody beating him."

And the layoff?

"If it were me," Paul Casey said last week, "I would like to play some tournament golf before I went to a major. But Tiger is the sort of person who can just roll up, turn the key and off he goes - like a Rolls Royce. He's not going to lose his ability."

Woods is 4-for-13 at Augusta (with four additional top-5s) since 1997.

Since 2007, he is batting .200 in majors but is 15-for-29 in non-major PGA Tour events.

"Tiger doesn't show up unless his game is good," Goydos said. "He doesn't play a ton (over the winter) anyway, so I don't think the layoff will be any issue whatsoever."

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