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Tiger Takes His Golf Game To New Play-For-Pay Level With Nothing Left To Prove In The Amateur Ranks, Woods Decides To Make Professional Debut This Weekend

Associated Press

The game Tiger Woods has played his whole life finally became his job.

Woods, the most heralded player to come out of the amateur ranks since Jack Nicklaus 35 years ago, announced Tuesday he would be playing in this weekend’s Greater Milwaukee Open as a professional.

“This is to confirm that, as of now, I am a professional golfer,” Woods said in a statement released through the tournament.

He declined further comment until a press conference today, saying he wanted to practice without distraction.

Just 20 years old, Woods won an unprecedented third consecutive U.S. Amateur title Sunday, leaving little else for him to achieve as an amateur.

Woods, who was to have been a junior at Stanford, called his college golf coach, Wally Goodwin, early Tuesday morning to tell him of his decision.

“I jumped for joy,” Goodwin said. “I said, ‘Atta boy, Tiger.’

“He’s ready. He’s a great kid. He’s paid his dues. He’s been a wonderful emissary for Stanford the last two years. I’m blessed to have had him, Stanford’s been blessed to have had him, and now it’s time to get on with it.”

The most noticeable difference initially between Tiger Woods the amateur and Tiger Woods the pro may be the corporate logos he sports.

Agents and industry sources have estimated that Woods will sign a series of endorsement deals that could bring him as much as $7 million a year. Those deals will be with golf ball, club and other equipment makers and will generate riches that would be in addition to any money he makes on the pro tour.

Playing a practice round with Dave Stockton Jr. and Billy Andrade at Brown Deer Park Golf Course, Woods appeared happy and relaxed Tuesday, constantly flashing the engaging smile that helps make him perhaps the most marketable golfer ever.

Woods had planned for some time to play in the Milwaukee tournament, for which he had a sponsors’ exemption. The question was whether it would be as an amateur or as a pro, and his record third consecutive U.S. Amateur title settled that.

A source told The Associated Press that after the Milwaukee tournament, Woods will play the Quad City Classic, the B.C. Open, the Buick Challenge, the Las Vegas Invitational and the La Cantera Texas Open. If he wins $80,000 in those tournaments, he’ll be allowed to play in the Walt Disney World-Oldsmobile Classic, the source said.

To earn his 1997 PGA Tour card without having to make a trip to qualifying school, Woods must end up in the top 125 on the PGA’s money list. He could also gain a two-year Tour exemption by winning a tournament.

It is also likely, the source said, that Woods will be asked to participate in the prestigious Skins Game, a non-tour event.

Followed by a gallery of fewer than 50 people Tuesday, including his mother, Woods was loose and often laughing when he wasn’t getting tips from Stockton or Butch Harmon, his swing instructor.

Woods declined to answer any questions but took time to sign several autographs for kids.

“We were joking around out there, and he’s not nervous,” Stockton said. “Come Thursday on the first tee, who knows? But I’ll tell you what, when you’re two down with three to go in the U.S. Amateur, trying to win three in a row and you pull it out, that gives you a lot of confidence, as far as I’m concerned.”

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