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The Hustlers

"Where did it go, Kasey?" Hamilton asked. It was not clear if Hamilton was rubbing salt in the wound or if he actually didn't see the shot. Either way, Thompson didn't answer. He hit another, and this one, predictably, was right down the middle. He slammed his driver back into his bag and slumped into the passenger side of the cart.

Thompson received a much-needed glimmer of hope when Hamilton's ball was found nestled behind a newly planted sapling. He would almost certainly have to punch out, opening the possibility of bogey or even double.

But Hamilton wanted to make it interesting. Or maybe, in the absence of any cow manure, he just wanted to prove that he could hit a difficult shot under pressure. He pulled a nine-iron from his bag and made a slow- motion practice swing to make sure he wouldn't hit the tree in front of him. He was 130 yards out. After little deliberation, he played a sweeping hook around the tree that landed precariously between the pin and a greenside pond but came to rest on the fringe.

"How about that, boys?"

Thompson knew his day was done. He walked over to his ball in the fairway and picked it up.

Meanwhile, Mason dropped his approach within fifteen feet and moments later made the putt for a $90,000 birdie and an even-par back nine.

Thompson had lost $340,000 on one hole and a total of $703,000 for the day. Walking off the green, he muttered to no one in particular, "You guys are giving me more strokes next time."

We drove to the clubhouse, where the chipper cart attendants bounded out to ask us how the round went. "I lost a house," Thompson said.

"A nice house," Hamilton added.

The attendants chuckled at what seemed to be outrageous hyperbole. But it surely wasn't. And Thompson would pay up, a week later, in a combination of cash and casino chips. (Hamilton is no dummy: Before ever accepting a bet with Thompson, he conducted his own background check to make sure he was good for it.) Paying in chips is the way most high-stakes golf gamblers settle debts in this town. Chips are liquid, like cash, but much more portable. If you need to pay someone $300,000, you could either bring a suitcase full of greenbacks or three gray-colored chips from the Bellagio.

When the scores were added up, Thompson had shot ninety-two, better than his average. Hamilton finished with eighty-six, and Mason carded an impressive eighty. He even took $20,000 from Hamilton.

The two hustlers immediately launched into a justification of how they haven't played that well in months. Seriously, they insisted, we're not that good.

THE GOLF GAMBLER'S VEGAS

Looking for a little action on the links in Las Vegas?It's not hard to find.

"You get the word out that you are looking for a golf game for money, and it will get around," says Anthony Curtis, publisher of the Las Vegas Advisor. "There will be somebody who will get you to somebody."

How do you do it?One way is bring it up in the poker room—a frequent after-hours haunt for the city's golf gamblers—of any major casino. Try the Bellagio, which offers the highest stakes in town. Before long, you'll find someone willing to play at just about any stakes you can imagine. Or, if you are a fairly big player at the gaming tables, ask your casino host to set up a match for you. But, as always in Vegas, tread carefully.

"He may set up you up with a guy who is going to slay you and the host gets a piece of it," Curtis says. "That kind of stuff goes on all the time."

Or maybe you want a different sort of action. Most of the sports books in town offer wagering on PGA events, with the Las Vegas Hilton featuring the widest selection. At the Hilton, just off the Strip, you can bet as little as $5 on everything from whether Michelle Wie will make the cut to the winning score at the Masters. The most popular bet among tourists is to pick a player to win that week's tournament, even though that is one of the most difficult to hit. "It's hard, but people like to bet the long odds," says Jeff Sherman, who sets the Hilton's golf odds.

The more discriminating locals, on the other hand, tend to play the "matchups," where they bet on who will finish higher out of two closely ranked players, say Jim Furyk and Vijay Singh. In doing so, the bettors look to exploit patterns in player performance based on putting surfaces, types of layouts, etc.

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