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Woods Picks Up Pocket Change

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

You couldn’t call it a swoon, but it certainly wasn’t the splash Tiger Woods and his corporate benefactor Nike expected. So maybe it would be appropriate to call it a swoosh.

Woods, who has been adorned with a wealth of the company’s symbols on his hats, shirts, pants and shoes after receiving a “boatload” of new golf duds this week, ended his much-heralded and painstakingly chronicled initial foray into the professional realm Sunday at Brown Deer Park Golf Course.

He shot a three-under-par 68--that included a hole in one--and his 67-69-73-68--277 in the Greater Milwaukee Open was good enough for a tie for 60th place and a first pro paycheck of $2,544.

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That probably won’t equal a month’s interest on the signing bonus he received Wednesday night when he made the deal with Nike, worth between $40 and $60 million over the next five years. But it was, as Woods described it, a “step in the right direction.”

Woods showed flashes of what many of his new peers are predicting for his future Sunday with a pair of eagles, the hole-in-one on the 202-yard 14th hole where he hit a six-iron, and a three on the 556-yard No. 6, where he hit a two-iron off the tee, a 206-yard five-iron to the fringe and dropped in a 30-foot putt.

Woods insists that the highlight of his week was his first tee shot on Thursday, “a nice draw right down the middle.” But the hole in one, the fourth of the tournament, had to be a close second. The ball landed about eight feet right of the cup, kicked left on one hop and rolled in.

“I was trying to hit a low six-iron and run it up at the pin, but it went higher than I wanted and I thought the wind would snag it,” he said. “When I saw it hit and bounce, I thought, ‘That should be close.’ Then everybody started jumping up and down and I realized it went in and then I got excited.”

Woods recovered from a rare round Saturday when he sprayed his iron shots all over the course by taking a four-hour nap Saturday afternoon and waking only to eat dinner before going back to bed. He said he felt fresh Sunday morning and was hitting them long and true again. But his medium- and long-range putts consistently slipped just past the cup or lipped out and he finished 12 strokes behind winner Loren Roberts, who made a six-foot birdie putt on the first playoff hole to defeat Jerry Kelly after both had finished with 19-under-par 265s.

Woods’ goal is to finish between “No. 1 and No. 125” on the money list, which is what he needs to earn a PGA card for next year. He is scheduled to play six more tournaments.

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“If you want to break it down,” he said, “all you need is one good week.”

Actually, finishing No. 150 would be good enough for the 20-year-old phenom because he then would be allowed to accept an unlimited number of sponsor exemptions. And when you consider what his presence meant to attendance at this tournament, it’s very likely he would be able to play anywhere he wanted next year.

“I don’t think there’s any question that Tiger is going to make a big impact out here, probably very soon,” veteran Duffy Waldorf said. “He hits the ball farther than John Daly and he’s more accurate off the tee. He’s got a short game like [Phil] Mickelson that can get him out of tough spots and I compare him to [Ben] Crenshaw with the putter, he’s so fundamentally sound.”

Woods is hoping the demands from media will die down soon.

“Dealing with you guys and answering all your questions has been the hardest part for me,” he said. “ ‘No,’ it is not in my nature. I always try to be nice and accommodate people, but like Curtis [Strange] told me, I’m just going to have to learn to say, ‘No.’ ”

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