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04/04/2008 No.3
rendspotting Editor's Choice
Dan Roebuck
Saturday April 04, 2008
  Choi looks the best bet for punters wanting to get away from Woods

Tiger Woods heads into next week's Masters as the shortest-priced favourite ever to contest a major. The world No1 has been so dominant over the past nine months that some bookmakers have issued odds-on quotes about him winning a fifth title at Augusta. Paddy Power and William Hill are the only mainstream layers that quote Woods at odds-against - both 11-10 - but should the 9-1 (general) second favourite Phil Mickelson play poorly in the Shell Houston Open, which started last night, even that stand-out price might vanish.

Bookmakers will be desperate for anyone other than Woods to don the green jacket a week on Sunday. At the start of the year Hill's reported that one punter staked £4,000 on Woods for each of the majors. Hill's has also racked up a seven-figure liability about him winning the grand slam. Woods's four wins from five starts in 2008 have forced the layers to cut his price to win all four majors to 10-1 (Coral and Sportingbet) from 50-1.

It is 25-1 bar the top two in the outright market for Augusta and plenty of punters will not look beyond Woods and Mickelson. For those who do not like taking odds-on prices in 90-runner-plus events, some firms have issued a market "without Woods". Here, the top three in the betting are Mickelson at 5-1, Ernie Els 12-1 and Vijay Singh 14-1. This market might not be available over the weekend because of the participation of players at Redstone. Understandably, odds compilers want to know how some of Woods's rivals play before issuing their definitive prices.

Woods has lost only twice in the past 10 official tournaments he has played but it is his course knowledge and experience which have been a significant factor in his price. The 7,445-yard, par-72 layout suits his game perfectly. Long off the tee, his short game is excellent and his "clutch" putting is better than any of his rivals'. He ranks top in greens in regulation statistics on the PGA Tour and third in putting average (putts per greens in regulation).

Crucially, his waywardness with his driver will not be punished thanks to the wide-open fairways. The minor changes made to the course over the winter should not affect the way he plays. Paddy Power is offering 66-1 that he records a hole in one and is prepared to refund all losing ante-post outright bets if he wins by five strokes or more.

With a hope of a bigger return for a smaller outlay, there are some better bets to be had than backing Woods. KJ Choi has attracted attention after winning the Sony Open and recording three other top-12 finishes prior to this week's Shell Houston Open. At 40-1 (general) to win the Masters, there are worse each-way bets, but the advice is to sell his finishing position at 29 - the quote Sporting Index has indicated will be available. Sellers would have shown a profit in three of his five Augusta starts at that price.

Paddy Power is the only firm offering "top European" prices at the moment, with Padraig Harrington the 4-1 favourite. Justin Rose trades at 11-2, Luke Donald 15-2, Henrik Stenson 8-1, Sergio García 9-1 and 11-1 bar. Rose - three successive top-15 efforts in the US coming into this event and fifth last year - and Donald, with two top-10 finishes at Augusta in three starts and two place payouts in his last five PGA tournaments, should be on shortlists, with the preference for the latter, each-way, given his bigger odds. Another European to look out for is Daniel Chopra. The Swede is a must for "top debutant" prices, which will be available next week.

Chilly and windy conditions saw the 2007 winning score a one-over 289 but, with temperatures forecast to reach 27C next week, a sub-par total is likely. Sporting Index offers a spread of 282-283 about the winner's score and Paddy Power goes 5-6 that it will be 283 or less, which looks a fair price.

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