Odds are Tony Romo will win the American Century Championship.
The recently retired NFL quarterback became a 2-1 favorite on Wednesday, pulling away from two-time defending champion Mark Mulder, who remains at 3-1. Mulder seeks to become the first Tahoe celebrity golf “three-peat” champ.
Romo finished in the top five from 2008 to the last time he played here in 2012, including three second-place finishes. A huge influx of spectators who wore Dallas Cowboy apparel no doubt placed bets on the former Lone Star signalcaller to move the line.
Perhaps the winner will be a longshot.
Upon his arrival at the Tahoe Edgewood Golf Course, Jeremy Roenick said, “This is my favorite week of the year by a longshot.”
Part of the reason is because the former NHL player has gone from being a longshot to a pick as a top 10 finisher at 12-1. Being able to bet on the tournament is part of the allure of the unique, 28-year annual celebrity golf event at Stateline, Nevada, just across the street from several casino sports books.
The competitors often bet on themselves. Harrah’s-Harveys oddsmaker Dave Cudney confirmed many wagers are huge. The single-bet limit is $20,000 and most of the money comes in Thursday. The tournament runs Friday through Sunday.
The biggest longshot to win was NHL’s Mario Lemieux at 40-1 in 1998.
Looking to take a chance on a longshot? Joe Pavelski at 20-1 and Ray Allen at 30-1 could be the way to go. Some veterans in the field agree they both have a legitimate chance to win it all.
“I’d bet on Mulder or Mardy Fish (9-2) and I’d be your darkhouse,” said 40-1 longshot Colt Ford, who briefly played golf professionally before becoming a country recording artist.
Bettors will consider the condition of the course. Golf always comes down to putting and the alpine greens tend to be spongy.
“To win it takes patience and you need to knock down the birdie putts,” said Jack Wagner, a two-time champion. “This course always is about the greens. These guys out here are big. When you putt you hope to hit the right heel mark.”
This year, however, Mark Rypien, another two-time champ, said Tahoe’s epic snowfall last winter has left the Edgewood’s greens in the best shape he’s seen in the tournament’s history.
Wagner said the good greens will favor Fish, a former tennis star.
“He had 11 three putts last year, and that’s not going to happen again,” Wagner said. “If Mardy putts well, I don’t think we’ll be talking about Mark Mulder.”
Rypien (7-1) won the very first American Century Championship in 1990.
“When it started maybe 10 had a chance to win,” Rypien said. “Now it’s 20.”
In addition to Ford, the former Redskin quarterback mentioned ex-NHL star Mike Modano (15-1), former Atlanta Braves pitcher John Smoltz (8-1), former NFL stars Brian Urlacher, Sterling Sharpe and Marshall Faulk, each at 20-1. “(Actor) Oliver Hudson (40-1) is a super focused guy,” Rypien added. “Justin Timberlake (35-1) was playing behind us yesterday and he was just pounding it.”
Most of the celebrities are current or former professional athletes, and while golf is not their best sport they each possess a competitive fire. The NHL’s Roenick, who has played in the tourney since 1993, has continued to improve. For more than a decade, he consistently finished more than 40 places out of first. He’s been in the top six three times since 2011.
Roenick said he enjoys playing in the tournament because it allows him to be competitive again. When he talks about blowing the lead in the final day in 2014, you can feel heat of his burning memory.
Trash talk, of course, will be heard this week.
“Stephen Curry (20-1) is a good player but if he’s grouped with his dad (Dell Curry, 30-1), his dad will get in his head,” Rypien said.
Roenick has a strategy for dealing with Mulder.
“I am going to use the word shank as often as I can when I am around him,” he said. “I’m not going to say, ‘Hi Mark.’ I will just say, ‘Shank.’ ”
Billy Rapaport, the senior field director for the ACC and a part-time Lake Tahoe resident, has worked the tournament all 28 years. He says the head-to-head bets are the best way to win, as he did in 2016.
Proposition bets available this year include Mulder vs. Romo, Smoltz vs. Fish and Rypien vs. Jack Wagner, another two-time winner.
The Tahoe Onstage longshot prediction? Derek Lowe (20-1) hits the ball a mile but sometimes not so straight. Allen, the great NBA shot maker, is intriguing. And Roenick is due to put three good rounds together. But the pick here is Wagner, who is 8-1 and sandbagging. He said he has been working on a project and not on his golf game, but he’s looked good in practice rounds and is spending hours on the driving range. As one of two golfers who have played in all 28 celebrity tourneys at Tahoe, no one knows the course as well as Wagner.
On Tuesday he said his goal was to “not embarrass himself.” On Wednesday he said he has “very low expectations.”
Reverse psychology has always been part of his game. The actor revels in being the non-athlete in the field. “I do the elliptical,” he quipped.
American Century Championship
Harrah’s Harveys Sportsbook odds
Tony Romo 2-1
Mark Mulder, 3-1
Mardy Fish, 9-2
Mark Rypien, 7-1
Jack Wagner, 8-1
John Smoltz, 8-1
Trent Dilfer 10-1
John Elway 12-1
Jeremy Roenick 12-1
Mike Modano 15-1
Steph Curry 20-1
Aaron Rodgers, 30-1
Justin Timberlake, 35-1
Paige Spiranac, 40-1
Charles Barkley, 6,000-1