Just 14.5 rounds into his comeback, Tiger Woods is now the oddsmakers' favorite to win the Masters.
The oddsmakers have seen enough: Tiger Woods' latest comeback has been impressive enough to convince the powers that be in Las Vegas that the 14-time major champion should be the favorite at The Masters, which begins April 5.
Woods is now listed as 8/1 to win his fifth green jacket at Augusta National. He came into Thursday's opening round at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill as the third favorite, but a three-under 33 on the front nine on Thursday saw him shoot to the top of the bettor's board.
2018 Masters updated— Jeff Sherman (@golfodds) March 15, 2018
T Woods 8/1
D Johnson 9/1
J Thomas 9/1
J Spieth 12/1
J Day 14/1
J Rahm 14/1
R McIlroy 16/1
J Rose 16/1
P Mickelson 16/1
R Fowler 18/1
B Watson 25/1
P Casey 25/1
S Garcia 30/1
H Matsuyama 30/1
T Fleetwood 30/1
M Leishman 40/1
A Noren 50/1
P Reed 50/1
Directly following him are the number one player in the world, Dustin Johnson, and the hottest player on the planet, Justin Thomas, who are both pegged at 9/1. Next up are 2015 champion Jordan Spieth (12/1), former world number one Jason Day (14/1) and the fiery Spaniard Jon Rahm (14/1).
Phil Mickelson, who has won the Masters three times and won his last event, the WGC Mexico Championship, is listed at 16/1, while defending champion Sergio Garcia is 30/1.
After missing a year as he recovered from spinal fusion surgery—a recovery that seemed seriously bleak at times, with Tiger himself wondering whether he'd ever compete again—Woods returned to competitive action at the unofficial Hero World Challenge in December, an event he hosts in the Bahamas. Woods took t-9th in an 18-man field but showed promising signs. Namely, he played pain free and produced ball speeds over 180 miles per hour, something he struggled to do in his previous comebacks from other back surgeries.
Woods made his first PGA Tour start of this season at the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines near San Diego, an event he's won eight times. There, Tiger finished t-23rd thanks to a tidy short game, as he struggled with his ball-striking all week. After a missed cut at Riviera, Woods finished 12th at the Honda Classic then backed that up with a t-2 finish at the Valspar Championship, a tournament he had a legitimate chance to win down the stretch.
Surely Woods' unmatched pedigree is a big reason he's now the favorite. Woods has 79 PGA Tour wins and has finished in the top five at Augusta 11 times, including four victories (though none since 2005), so any time he's playing somewhat well he's going to be listed near the top. And to his credit, Tiger legitimately is playing well—three top-25s in four starts is solid enough, and his game is certainly trending in the right direction. There's also the belief that Woods's course knowledge gives him a leg up on the field at Augusta, a course that requires a clear strategy and forces you to play to certain parts of the fairways and greens.
From a betting perspective, the oddsmakers know that Tiger is going to receive way, way more wagers than any other player. He is still the biggest draw in the sport by a wide margin, and casual fans or fans who watch golf four times a year are far more likely to bet on Tiger than anyone else. So the books want to protect themselves from a massive loss if Woods does indeed win his 15th major, a story that would be one of the best in recent sports memory.