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Out of It and Still Favored

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Hello Milwaukee, anyway.

Nike’s new Hello-World ad campaign that features Tiger Woods’ exploits points out that there are still golf courses he can’t play because of his color. The ads, which debuted this weekend, conclude with “Are you ready for me?”

The answer at Brown Deer Park Golf Course, where the Greater Milwaukee Open is being contested this week, is a resounding yes, especially with African Americans who have turned out in what have to be record numbers for a golf tournament in this part of the world.

Woods isn’t going to win his pro debut. After a two-over-par 73 Saturday, he is at four-under 209. Third-round leader Jesper Parnevik is at 19-under 194. But that didn’t matter.

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“This is so exciting,” said Birdie Allen, a nurse at Milwaukee’s Sinai Samaritan Medical Center who took vacation days Thursday and Friday so she could follow Woods for all four rounds. “He carries himself so well and does us proud.”

Allen, who helps sponsor a summer outing at the golf course for high school students as part of the city’s Black Achievers Scholarship program, said Woods’ turning pro will serve as a very positive example for America’s minority youth.

“I’m sure now that he’s out here, others will risk it,” Allen said. “Golf’s a great game, but our kids didn’t have any role models until now. Tiger’s changing that. Everybody in my neighborhood was glued to the TV last Sunday [when Woods won his third consecutive U.S. Amateur title].”

Michael Seymour, who is white, and his wife, Marina, who is African American, took their three children out of school Friday to avoid the weekend crowds and ensure a spot close to the ropes.

“This is wonderful for golf, it’s that simple,” said Michael Seymour, an avid golfer.

His son, Charles, 6, pointed at Woods and said he hopes to be follow Tiger’s tracks down the fairway. “I already play golf,” he said, beaming. “My dad’s teaching me.”

Lee Elder was the first African American to win on the PGA Tour and Calvin Peete was the most successful with 12 victories between 1979 and 1986, and there have been others, but none have had the impact of Woods, who has a rich ethnic background. His father is a half African American, a quarter Chinese and a quarter Native American. His mother is half Thai, a quarter Chinese and a quarter Caucasian.

When you consider Nike’s plans for worldwide exposure, Woods figures to become an icon.

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“I didn’t do any acting or anything,” Woods said of the television commercial that debuted two days after he signed a deal with Nike that has been reported to be worth between $40 million and $60 million. “It’s just clips from the past, but I think it’s a message that’s been long awaited. Being a non-white person, I’ve lived through this. Nike is just telling the truth.”

Woods said he has been buoyed at times by the support of the huge crowds that follow him around the course, but he doesn’t let it become a distraction.

“It’s great to see all the people, especially the kids, out here rooting me on,” he said. “But I pretty much keep my head down and try to stay focused on my game.”

It’s not always easy when spectators such as Lawrence White, a retired plumber from Milwaukee, are booming encouragement with shouts of “Chew ‘em up, Tiger.”

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“I usually never watch golf,” White said, “but I saw that commercial and I said, ‘Yeah!’ Tiger’s going to be bringing a lot of people to golf who didn’t care about it at all before.

“Kids are going to be playing it instead of basketball. They’ll want to be the next Tiger Woods instead of the next Michael Jordan.”

Hopefully, they weren’t watching too closely Saturday. Woods, who had been splitting fairways with his two-iron with amazing consistency during the first two rounds, started to spray the ball around.

He missed a four-foot putt for par on the first hole, but sank an eight-foot birdie putt on No. 2. He scrambled to collect four consecutive pars before another tee shot that ended in the rough led to a bogey.

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He ran into real trouble at the turn, however. His two-iron tee shot on the ninth hole ended up buried in the deep rough and his second shot advanced the ball only a couple of feet. He then punched a shot under tree and into a greenside bunker. His shot out of the sand came up short, leaving him an 18-foot bogey putt, which he missed to drop to three under.

His woes continued on No. 10 when his second shot flew the green and ended up in the gallery. A flop shot from there rolled 12 feet past the pin and he two-putted for a bogey.

Woods picked up a stroke on the par-five 15th hole with a good chip and three-foot birdie putt. The 18th not only ended, but summed up his day. He crushed a 359-yard drive and hit a second shot that stopped five feet from the pin. But he pushed his chance for eagle past the hole and tapped in for birdie.

“I just didn’t have it,” he shrugged, adding that the events of the past week and a half--nine rounds in seven days at the U.S. Amateur and the media “hysteria” surrounding his decision to turn pro here--have drained him mentally.

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“It’s hard to stay focused and grind out 110% on every shot,” he said. “And when you play bad on a course that’s playing as easy as this one, you’re going to get lapped. But I’ll come back strong tomorrow like I did at the U.S. Amateur.”


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