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Woods Is Cut Above in Debut

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Anybody who saw last Sunday’s U.S. Amateur championship match knows Tiger Woods doesn’t fold under pressure when there’s a big trophy and a bit of history at stake.

Friday, during the second round of the Greater Milwaukee Open here at Brown Deer Park, the 20-year-old proved he has what it takes to battle for a paycheck as well.

Woods might have become a multimillionaire overnight when he signed with Nike on Wednesday night and admits he’s “financially set for life.” But he also has to string together a number of strong performances over the next couple of months to finish in the top 125 on the PGA money list and earn his card for next year’s tour.

And when he missed a four-foot putt for par on No. 3--his 12th hole of the day after starting the round on the back nine--and walked up to the fourth tee three under par, he was in danger of not making the cut in his first pro tournament. The cut was at 139, three under.

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“The first time I saw a leaderboard was on 13 and when I saw [Nolan] Henke was 14 under, I thought, ‘Wow, what do you have to do out here?’ ” Woods said. “But even after I missed that putt [on No. 3], I knew I had to stay calm and be patient. I still had a lot of holes left.”

Woods might not have been in a panic, but he wasted little time scooting back up the board and into a more comfortable position. He had birdies on the next two holes, saved par with some big league scrambling on the par-five sixth hole, then finished with a flourish by sinking a 15-foot birdie putt for a 69 and a two-round total of 136, six under.

Woods trailed 29 players, including Henke, who shot a five-under 66 on Friday and leads the tournament at 14-under 128. Duffy Waldorf, who had a second-round 65, is second at 130, with Bob Estes, Loren Roberts, Jesper Parnevik and Mike Heinen all grouped at 11-under 131.

Woods was clearly unhappy as he strode to the tee at the par-five No. 4, but he didn’t try to do anything spectacular and stuck with his game plan. He hit a three-iron 247 yards into the middle of the fairway and a four-iron 238 yards into the middle of the green. He missed an 18-foot eagle putt, but tapped in a one-footer for birdie.

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Woods pulled his seven-iron on the 164-yard fifth hole onto the fringe, 20 feet from the hole. But he popped a little chip shot that rolled straight in the hole and broke his game face with the face-splitting grin he had been holding in reserve most of the morning.

Still, it was on the 556-yard No. 6 that Woods really showed his stuff. He crushed a driver, but lost it right and was back in the trees with no view of the pin, which was 252 yards away.

Woods pulled out his four-iron, but caddie Mike Cowan, on loan from Peter Jacobsen, suggested a three, “if you think you can get it up [over a tree in the flight path] fast enough.”

“I don’t think I can,” Woods replied.

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“Then I like what you’ve got in your hand,” Cowan said.

“If I hit it solid, I think I can reach the front [of the green],” Woods said.

Woods, who almost never looks as if he’s swinging hard, nearly came out of his shoes on this one. The ball soared inches above the uppermost branches of the tree and landed inches from a green-side bunker.

He now faced an even more daunting shot. He stood with one foot in the sand trap and one in the grass with very little green to work with. The bunker covered most of the distance between his ball and the pin.

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With one hand choked down on the shaft of his wedge, Woods hit a flop shot that would have made Phil Mickelson jealous. The ball went 25 feet in the air and covered a similar distance toward the hole, plopped down and came to a stop four feet from the pin. He missed the birdie putt, but escaped with a tap-in par on a hole that could have ruined his professional debut.

If Woods gets it going with the putter, he might still make a serious impact on this tournament. Despite disappointment in his iron play--"I just haven’t been very sharp"--he has been remarkably solid from tee to green.

In the last two days, the longest putts he has made are 15, 10, and eight feet. And he has missed five putts inside of five feet. Had he made all of those, he would be tied for third at 11 under.

“I’m glad I made the cut, but I’m a little disappointed I’m eight back,” Woods said. “I’ve had some opportunities and probably should be a little closer, but I just didn’t have it going today. In a four-round tournament, everybody has one off day and hopefully this was mine. I just have to be more precise with my irons and get some putts to fall.

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“But I’ve put up two scores in the 60s and you have to be pleased with that in your first pro tourney. I made my first goal, to make the cut, and now I’m going to try to shoot a couple of rounds, hopefully in the mid-60s, over the weekend and make a nice check.”

If his swing and new status as business tycoon tend to make you forget his age, here’s a quick reminder. Asked what his first purchases with his new wealth will be, Woods quickly responded, “a car and a really good sound system.”


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