With Tiger Woods sidelined, interest on course actually could be heightened.
LONDON — Apparently they’re persisting with plans to hold a British Open starting Thursday, and apparently fans remain intent on attending it in droves, and apparently Britons will employ one of their various sinful reflexes and bet on it with cheery dispatch.
It all speaks to the doggedness of the human animal, given the unfathomable Woods-lessness of the occasion that’s brimming at Royal Birkdale in Stockport on the west coast of England.
As the first major tournament sans Tiger Woods since Texan Mark Brooks edged Kentuckian Kenny Perry to win the 1996 PGA Championship in Louisville, Ky., the 137th Open would seem a good bet to prove conclusively that no one person trumps a revered event, a bit of a question given the Woods colossus.
House-renters are up, golf-wagerers are rejuvenated as they bet on everything from who’ll win to Ian Poulter’s clothing to whether the winner will wear a cap, and apparently a Claret Jug will go to an apparent British Open champion, even if the first question he’ll get will go something like, “Is your title devalued?”
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“I still believe and I’ll say it again, the game of golf, it will live on past Tiger Woods and past whoever the next best player will be after Tiger Woods,” three-time major winner Ernie Els said last week at the Scottish Open.
Of course, he also said, “And on the other hand, the best player of this generation is not there, and whoever is going to win next week, whoever is going to play well next week, is going to have to answer questions of, ‘Do you think you would have beaten Tiger if he was here?’ And it’s one of those things.”
Referring to Jack Nicklaus’ 18 major titles and Tom Watson’s eight, three-time major winner Phil Mickelson said in Scotland, “I don’t look back at the field they played, I just look at the tournaments they have won.”
Of course, he also said, “It’s going to have a negative effect, obviously, on television ratings, on fan interest and so forth. I think it also opens an opportunity for a number of players to come through and maybe win tournaments that they might not have won, who knows?”
Asked how many fans might have canceled rentals since the Woods withdrawal on June 18, Ralph Jackson of the principal Realtor Ball & Percival said, “Not one single person.”
He went further and likened it to the Grand National steeplechase race, whose popularity stems partly from the fact that nobody really has any idea who might win. “I think, from my perspective, it has actually created a lot of interest because it leaves it wide-open.”
And speaking of disposable income in a country where recreational wagering long since has shed its last societal stigmas, last year the bookmakers that adorn every main drag made just under 24 million pounds (about $48 million) on the British Open industry-wide, said Rupert Adams of the William Hill agency.
“And we would expect to be about 30 million this time,” he said.
That’s in pounds, which outdrive dollars roughly twofold.
To some degree, Woods’ absence has unshackled bookmakers and enhanced betting value. It has awakened the “middle level of punter,” Adams said, meaning the bettor who spends the equivalent of between $10 and $60 on the Open.
On the English morning of June 18, before Woods announced his knee injuries, his impending surgery and his rest-of-year hiatus, before the sun rose in America, Woods stood at 13-8 to win the Open, a routine sort of number with Woods but an absurd number in golf, where in pre-Woods days Nick Faldo or Nick Price or Colin Montgomerie used to draw 8-1 if especially backed.
Adams actually joked that morning that he wished Woods would take the rest of the year off, especially given a Woods-wins-three-majors bet that figured to cost William Hill about $400,000 if Woods pulled it off.
Now Adams sees “an extremely open book, the best possible for a bookmakers,” while Nick Weinberg of Ladbrokes sees “a balance of the books.” Said Adams, “Everybody in the book’s first 30 or 40 has been extremely well-backed,” and both the wagering and the outcome have become “jolly difficult to forecast.”