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PGA Puts a Tiger in Its Tank as Woods Decides to Join Pros

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Tiger Woods, the 20-year-old golfer from Cypress who won a record third consecutive U.S. Amateur title Sunday, has decided to take his game to another level and join the professional ranks, sources said.

International Management Group, the Cleveland-based sports representation firm, has prepared a Woods information kit and called a news conference for 2:30 p.m. Wednesday in Milwaukee, where Woods is scheduled to play in the Greater Milwaukee Open beginning Thursday.

Woods accepted sponsors’ invitations weeks ago to play in that event and the Quad City Classic at Coal Valley, Ill., Sept. 12-15. Those tournaments were to serve as tests for Woods to measure his golf game against the pros before returning to Stanford for his junior year later this month.

However, Woods apparently had a change of heart after Sunday’s dramatic, 38-hole victory over Steve Scott of Florida in the final of the U.S. Amateur at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club in Cornelius, Ore. Woods was vague when questioned about his plans Sunday, although only days earlier he had committed to play for the U.S. team in an international amateur competition scheduled for November.

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Woods was joined in the locker room after his victory by Hughes Norton, an agent for IMG who represents pro golfer Peter Jacobsen, among others.

Butch Harmon, a Houston teaching pro who serves as Woods’ coach, said Woods had asked him if his game was good enough to play in the pros. Harmon said he answered in the affirmative.

“The only player I can compare him to at comparable stages of their careers is Jack Nicklaus,” Harmon said. “Like Nicklaus, he has tremendous length, tremendous touch and tremendous focus and concentration.”

And also like Nicklaus, Woods is getting a head start on how to become a millionaire.

Phil Knight, the founder of Nike, and Ely Callaway, who founded Callaway Golf, were in Woods’ gallery at the U.S. Amateur.

Nike has long coveted Woods as a client. Callaway estimated that Nike will offer Woods $18-25 million for five years.

“Nike is going to pay him big,” Callaway said.

Professional golf is a fertile ground for endorsement income for its top stars. In addition to whatever clothing and apparel company Woods chooses to represent, he will be paid to play a certain brand of clubs and a certain brand of ball and wear corporate logos on his shirt and on his headgear.

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John Daly, for instance, is under contract, for $30 million to play Wilson clubs.

Besides working out endorsement deals for Woods, as his official representative, IMG will negotiate appearance fees, lucrative overseas appearances and corporate outings.

Rocky Hambric of Cornerstone Sports, who represents 1995 U.S. Open champion Corey Pavin, said top players command fees as high as $300,000 to play an overseas event. One-day outings can bring in as much as $50,000.

Callaway said he isn’t surprised that Woods has chosen to go pro, considering the money available, but thought it might be a premature decision.

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“First of all, he can do what he wants to do, but my personal opinion is he would be better off finishing up at Stanford,” Callaway said. “He’s going to be a great golfer forever if he remains healthy and he’s going to be very valuable forever. But that’s just one man’s opinion.”

Wally Goodwin, Woods’ golf coach at Stanford, said he would not criticize any decision his star pupil made.

“I never second-guess Tiger,” Goodwin said. “He’s very smart and very thorough in his thinking. And his dad is very businesslike. They have it all worked out.

“He’s not turning pro because of the money. When he does it, it’s because he wants to play against the pros on that level.”

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There were conflicting reports about Woods’ decision. Joel Kribel, a Stanford teammate who lost to Woods in the Amateur semifinals, said he wasn’t sure Woods had indeed decided to turn pro.

“But I did have the feeling after talking to him before the tournament that he would turn pro if he won it a third time,” Kribel said.

Harmon said he didn’t know if Woods had made up his mind.

“He’s under a lot of pressure,” Harmon said.

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Woods is eligible for seven sponsors’ exemptions the rest of the year on the PGA Tour. To have playing privileges as a PGA Tour member in 1997, he must make enough prize money to finish in the top 125 on this year’s final official money list or win an event, which would earn him a two-year exemption.

Failing either would mean that he starts over in 1997 with sponsors’ exemptions for seven tournaments. He would have to qualify for the majors because he would forfeit his amateur exemption that he earned for the Masters, the U.S. Open and the British Open.

Woods also could go to qualifying school this fall and try for his PGA Tour card.

Woods, who will turn 21 on Dec. 30, has a rich ethnic background. His father is a quarter Native American, a quarter Chinese and half African American. His mother is half Thai, a quarter Chinese and a quarter white.

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Woods’ varied background will make him even more attractive to the golf industry. His association would enable corporations to take their products and services into parts of the world that have not been exposed to professional golf and either open new markets or prompt expansion.

Callaway believes that Nike, if it does sign Woods to an endorsement agreement, would fit perfectly into the sports and apparel giant’s global picture.

“I’d have to say that for someone like Nike, he would very, very valuable,” Callaway said. “There’s such a broad range of products that he could endorse worldwide.”

Woods was a golf prodigy. Earl Woods gave his son Eldrick the nickname Tiger in honor of Earl’s South Vietnamese partner in combat in Vietnam.

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The toddler Tiger began playing at the age of six months and by the second grade he had won an international tournament. In 1987 when he was 11, Woods was undefeated in 30 Southern California junior golf events. At 16 years and two months he became the youngest player to enter a PGA Tour event at the 1992 Nissan Los Angeles Open.

Woods was the youngest person to win the U.S. Amateur, which he did in 1994 when he was 18, one year younger than Nicklaus and four years younger than Bobby Jones.

Woods is the only male golfer to win three U.S Junior Amateurs, the only male to win the U.S. Junior Amateur and the U.S. Amateur and the only male to win three U.S. Amateurs in succession.

His 1-up victory over Scott, a University of Florida golfer, was the second-longest match in U.S. Amateur history. It also was Woods’ 17th consecutive victory in U.S. Amateur match play.

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Woods came from five holes down after the 18-hole break and from two holes down with three holes to play.

“It was the most fascinating golf event I’ve ever seen,” Harmon said.

Although he hasn’t been as successful playing professional events as an amateur, most of those tournaments have been major championships squeezed between his schoolwork at Stanford.

His best finish in a professional event was a tie for 22nd at this year’s British Open at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, where he was the low amateur.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Tracking Tiger on the Pro Tour

Tiger Woods, who is expected to announce that he will play full-time on the PGA Tour, has played in 17 professional tournaments as an amateur, with his best finish being his most recent event, a tie for 22nd at the British Open. Here is how he has fared in those tournaments:

*--*

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Year Tournament Finish 1996 British Open Tied 22nd Scottish Open Missed Cut U.S. Open Tied 82nd Masters Missed Cut 1995 British Open Tied 68th Scottish Open Tied 47th Western Open Tied 57th U.S. Open Withdrew Masters Tied 41st 1994 Western Open Missed Cut Johnnie Walker Tied 34th Buick Classic Missed Cut Nestle Invitational Missed Cut Byron Nelson Missed Cut Honda Classic Missed Cut Nissan Open Missed Cut 1992 Nissan Open Missed Cut

*--*

BY THE NUMBERS

* Events: 17

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* Cuts Made: 7

* Scoring Average: 73.79

* Rounds Under Par: 11

* Rounds Over Par: 31

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* Best Round: 66 ('96 British Open, 2nd round)

Source: Golf World magazine


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