LONDON – Tiger Woods is back to winning, and back to being the British bookies' favorite to win the Masters.
The 14-time major champion won his first PGA Tour tournament since 2009 on Sunday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill. It was his first chance to revel in a tour victory since his personal life went into turmoil following a sex scandal that ended his marriage and precipitated a steady decline in his game and his stature as the man to beat on the course.
But with his five-stroke victory Sunday and the Masters starting April 5, all that has changed.
"His whole game looks right now. He's putting well. He's chipping well. He's driving well," said Rupert Adams, a spokesman for British bookmaker William Hill. "The armor looks to be back in place again, and actually possibly the aura. Once again he's got the swagger back in his step."
William Hill has Woods listed as the 4-1 favorite to win his fifth Masters title, with Rory McIlroy close behind at 5-1. Other bookies have similar odds, with Ladbrokes quoting the same numbers as William Hill. Paddy Power and Coral both have Woods as the 7-2 favorite with McIlroy next at 9-2.
At 4-1 odds, a $1 bet returns $5. At 7-2, $1 returns $4.50.
"The four-time champion, fresh from his first PGA Tour win in 30-months at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, has every chance," Ladbrokes said on its website.
This year's Masters will be the first major in which Woods is listed as the favorite since the same tournament in 2010, shortly after his public downfall.
"We put him out at a top price at 5-2 then," Adams said. "We took 3,000 bets in the space of three hours. That was the last time he was favorite. Since then he's collapsed. They (bettors) started to back him to miss the cut after that."
But with Woods improving, the bookies are changing tactics, and another good showing at Augusta National could see Woods stay at the top of the betting lists for the foreseeable future.
"The Masters and Tiger are synonymous after that extraordinary (performance) when he destroyed the field (in 1997)," Adams said. "If he gives a good show, even a top-10 finish, I think you'll see once again Tiger is the first person on the betting sheet, without a doubt."