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Books still favor Tiger

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If you're on the bag, you know the PGA Tour's 2008 curtain goes up this weekend on the beautiful shores of Maui, where champions of the past season -- minus a couple of high-profile golfers -- are gathered in paradise to greet a new year.

Don't expect the top star to show up until the circuit's fourth stop of the New Year in San Diego later this month.

That's when 32-year-old superstar Tiger Woods will make his '08 debut in the Buick Open at Torrey Pines, where he's defending champion.

He's spending an extended holiday vacation with wife Elin and their six-month-old daughter, and skipping the Mercedes Championship, which he also has won.

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Prominent lefty Phil Mickelson is bypassing the lid lifter also.

Furyk and Singh are 11/2 Mercedes co-favorites, with the sport's marquee names still on hiatus.

Sponsors and fans don't like Woods' abbreviated schedule, while opponents no doubt have mixed emotions.

The world's No. 1-ranked player draws the crowds, but it's also much tougher to win when he's around.

SuperBook supervisor and golf specialist Jeff Sherman of the Las Vegas Hilton says if you're expecting things to change in American golf, think again.

"Tiger will be totally dominant again," Sherman, who was particularly impressed with the way Woods soared over the field at his own Target Challenge in mid-December, which he won by seven strokes.

"The PGA Tour IS the Tiger Woods show.

"The competition is getting worse, especially as far as consistency is concerned.

"I keep hearing it's Mickelson's time, it's Vijay's time, it's Furyk's time, but so far nobody has come close to what Tiger's done.

"The competition's falling off.

"People like Ernie Els aren't winning like they did."

All Woods has done since he dropped out of Stanford University after his sophomore year at Stanford is claim nearly $77 million and a staggering 61 PGA trophies, plus many more titles and dollars at non-tour events.

Tiger captured seven tournaments in 2007, along with the tour's inaugural FedEx Cup.

He has made 216 cuts in 230 career outings.

Sherman notes the only change he's made in 2008 Odds-to-Win the Masters was that he lowered Woods to 5/4.

"I had to," Sherman said.

Mickelson is next at 10/1, followed by Els at 20/1 and Singh and Furyk at 25/1.

Tiger's 2/3 to repeat as Fed Ex champion, with Mickelson at 6/1, Furyk at 10/1 and Singh at 15/1.

Woods is a 20/1 shot to win the Grand Slam, down from 50/1 in earlier days of his career.

Sherman expects the Buick Invitational to provide a good preview of the U.S. Open, which also will be contested at Torrey Pines.

"It will have a strong field, just like the Open," Sherman predicted.

  
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