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Long odds are still available on Tiger Woods's achieving his
goal of becoming the greatest golfer of all time. But after the
breathtaking way in which he made history on Sunday by winning
the most dramatic U.S. Amateur ever, would a wise man bet
against him?

Even with his unprecedented three consecutive victories in the
Amateur--the latest attained in a heart-stopping 38th-hole win
at Pumpkin Ridge near Portland over an unyielding Steve
Scott--the 20-year-old Woods is a long way from making a serious
dent in the record of Jack Nicklaus, who has won 18 professional
majors along with two Amateurs. But not even Nicklaus's career
got off to a better start and, Lord, does Woods know how to

He has been winning national championships since he was 15, when
he won the first of his three straight U.S. Junior titles. Now,
after six consecutive years as a USGA champion, Woods has
achieved the closure that will allow him to join Bobby Jones and
Nicklaus in the record book as the greatest amateurs ever, while
at the same time ending the debate over whether he should turn
pro. As SI went to press, Woods was scheduled to make the
announcement on Wednesday, the day before the opening round of
this week's Greater Milwaukee Open, where he would be
playing--for pay now--on a sponsor's exemption. Woods, who is
the NCAA champion, will withdraw from Stanford on the eve of
what would have been his junior year, with a promise to his
parents that he will return to complete his degree sometime in
the future.

Woods's immediate plans are ambitious: He wants to qualify for
the 1997 PGA Tour by earning enough money in the next two months
to get himself into the top 125 on this year's money list. His
passport will be the seven sponsors' exemptions annually allowed
a player. After Milwaukee, Woods plans to play in the Canadian
Open, the Quad City Classic, the B.C. Open, the Las Vegas
Invitational, the Texas Open and the Disney/Oldsmobile Classic.
If he wins a tournament, Woods will be exempt from having to
qualify for two years; if he earns more than $150,000 over the
remainder of the year, he should make the top 125. Should he
fall short, he will have to qualify for the '97 Tour by earning
one of the 40 or so spots available at the dread PGA Tour
Qualifying Tournament, which he says he "doesn't want to fool

Woods had been seriously thinking about turning pro since a
wondrous 66 in the second round of July's British Open.
"Something really clicked that day, like I had found a whole new
style of playing," he said on Sunday. "I finally understood the
meaning of playing within myself. Ever since, the game has
seemed a lot easier."

His resolve had hardened after an uninspired performance at the
Western Amateur last month, where he was beaten in the first
round by 19-year-old Terry Noe, the 1994 Junior champion. "I was
just flat, and that told me something," Woods said.

On Sunday night Woods, too drained from the week's 156 holes of
competition for anything but pizza and a shower at the Portland
home where he was staying, explained his decision. "I had
intended to stay in school, play four years at Stanford and get
my degree, but things change," he said. "I didn't know my game
was going to progress to this point. It got harder to get
motivated for college matches, and since I accomplished my goal
of winning the NCAA, it was going to get harder still. Finally,
winning the third Amateur in a row is a great way to go out. I
always said I would know when it was time, and now is the time."

Woods had sought out the opinions of several touring pros,
including Fred Couples, Ernie Els, Curtis Strange and Greg
Norman. They told him they believed he was ready physically and
mentally for the Tour. When Woods's father, Earl, saw that his
son was serious about turning pro, he had opened the most
high-powered bidding war ever for a golfer. A source close to
Woods says that Woods's endorsement deals with Nike (shoes and
clothes) and Titleist (ball and clubs) will add up to at least
$37 million over the next five years. Reportedly included in the
ripple effect from Woods's decision: He has accepted an
invitation to play in the Skins Game on Thanksgiving weekend.

Nike cofounder and CEO Phil Knight drove up Woods's price
because he openly coveted the player for his cross-cultural
appeal. With Nike's Beaverton, Ore., headquarters only 15 miles
from Pumpkin Ridge, Knight gladly put up with 90[degree]-plus
heat to watch all but one of Woods's matches. Although he tried
to keep a low profile by wearing the same kind of shirt that had
been issued to tournament volunteers, Knight could hardly
contain himself, spontaneously cheering Woods's shots. When a
reporter suggested that Woods might have the same charisma and
flair for competition as Michael Jordan, who also endorses Nike
products, Knight said, "You bet your ass. Same deal." However,
even the ultracompetitive Jordan once lost his taste for
basketball because of the constant pressures of life in the
fishbowl, and Woods will have to deal with the judgments, envy
and expectations an unproven star making megadollars inevitably

"All the amateur titles Tiger has won won't mean anything, and
he'll have to prove himself in a hard environment where there is
no mercy," says swing coach Butch Harmon, who worked with Woods
all week at Pumpkin Ridge. "He's got the intelligence and the
tools to succeed very quickly. My only worry is that he's losing
two of the best years of his life to do something that is very
demanding for a young person. Considering everything, he's
making the right decision, but he's going to have to grow up
faster than I'd like him to."

It was a tribute to Woods's powers of concentration that his
impending announcement had no negative effect in Portland. "It
just made him want it more," said Earl Woods on Sunday night. On
the many occasions last week when he was asked about when he
intended to turn pro, Tiger simply said, "In the future." In
fact, while his purpose at Pumpkin Ridge was to make history,
Woods put even that out of his mind. "I can't afford to think
about it," he said. "I know from experience that that just
causes anxiousness." For all his strength and creativity, Woods
proved last week that it is his ability to focus on the task at
hand that is his greatest weapon as a player. Asked if he
believed he was the toughest player, mentally, in the field, he
answered without hesitation, "Yes, I do."

And almost from the start, Woods both played and acted as if he
were. At the Amateur the low 64 players after two rounds of
medal play qualify for match play. Woods was the medalist, with
a 69-67-136, and then he made a tough-minded decision by
benching his caddie, sports psychologist Jay Brunza, who had
carried his bag in each of his five previous USGA victories. He
replaced Brunza with his best friend since boyhood, Bryon Bell.
The change caused no consternation in the Woods camp. In fact,
after Woods's first-round victory over J.D. Manning, Woods, Bell
and Brunza made a nostalgic visit to nearby Waverly Country
Club, where Woods won his third Junior, in '93. "That was
inspiring, and Tiger really drew on that memory," said Brunza,
who cheerfully accepted being asked to give up his caddie
duties. "Tiger decided I could better help him from outside the
ropes. Bryon clubs Tiger better than I do. I trust Tiger's
judgment about what he needs to win."

Woods had no significant problems until the championship's
18-hole semifinal, when he fell 2 down after four holes to his
Stanford teammate Joel Kribel. But after saving himself from
going 3 down at the 10th with a stunning 50-yard up and down out
of a bunker, Woods gained confidence while Kribel lost his.
After making two birdies and an eagle on the back nine, Woods
won 3 and 1. "All I have to do is stay strong up here," he said,
pointing to his head.

Doing that was no small task after he stumbled badly, going 4
down in the opening nine of the 36-hole final against Scott, a
pugnacious 19-year-old who this week began his sophomore year at
Florida. Nearly 15,000 fans--the biggest gallery at an Amateur
since Jones chased down the Grand Slam at Merion in Philadelphia
in 1930--saw Woods relentlessly fight back from what grew into a
five-hole deficit with 16 to play. In doing so, Woods was
reprising his comeback from the same margin with 13 holes left
in the '94 Amateur final against Trip Kuehne.

This was no Faldoesque resurgence, dependent on the mistakes of
the hunted. Built on huge drives and long putts, Woods's push
came against a surefooted opponent and carried the aura of a
desperate fourth-quarter rally by Michael Jordan or John Elway,
with virtuosity achieved with no margin for error.

Woods hit 28 of the last 29 greens in regulation. During the
afternoon 18, when Scott shot what would have been a solid
two-under-par 70 in medal play, Woods caught him with a
bogeyless 65, the low round in a championship that had begun
seven days earlier with 312 competitors. Tellingly, so focused
was Woods on his prey that he had no idea until after the match
that his score had been so low. "Given the circumstances," he
said, "this has to be the best I've ever played."

Woods rallied by winning three straight holes beginning on the
21st. He closed to within a hole, but then Scott sank a
spectacular flop shot on the 28th to go 2 up. Woods got the
momentum back on the next hole, a 553-yard par-5, when he hit a
350-yard drive and a five-iron to within 45 feet of the cup and
rolled in a curling downhill putt for an eagle that trumped
Scott's birdie. Scott again answered with a birdie on the 32nd,
where Woods missed a six-footer to halve.

Two down with three left, Woods holed an eight-footer for a
winning birdie on the 34th hole. Then on the 35th he put aside
his frustration at pushing his approach 35 feet from the pin,
narrowed his focus and drained his putt. "That's a feeling I'll
remember for the rest of my life," said Woods, who repeatedly
uppercut the air after his ball had dropped.

The rivals halved the 36th hole, and on the first hole of sudden
death, Scott missed an 18-footer for the championship. Finally,
on the 38th hole, the 194-yard, par-3 10th, Woods hit a softly
fading six-iron, a shot he and Harmon have been working to
perfect for more than a year, to 12 feet. Scott pushed his
five-iron into the greenside rough and chipped 11 feet past the
pin. Woods missed his putt, but so did Scott, and when Woods
drilled an 18-incher into the hole to take the lead for the
first time, the championship was over. Tiger immediately was
hugged first by his mother, Kultida, and then by his father.
"All I kept telling myself was that I've been here before," said
Tiger. "The fortunate part was I had 36 holes."

Scott, gracious in defeat, felt fortunate too. "That was
probably the best Amateur final match ever," he said, although
he might get an argument from those who saw Nicklaus beat
Charlie Coe at the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs in 1959. "Just
to be a part of it, I feel completely a winner."

Now Woods has a new pro career ahead and a new set of goals. If
he gets off to a good start and keeps coming through with the
fast finishes that made him an amateur for the ages, perhaps the
odds on catching Nicklaus will grow shorter.

COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK Dawn of an Era Tiger Woods practiced at about six in the morning on the day he won his third U.S. Amateur title. [T of C]

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY ROBERT BECK Woods was pumped after making a 45-footer for an eagle to ignite his comeback in the final. [Tiger Woods]

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY ROBERT BECK After Woods dug out of his hole, it was clear that Scott, even as he lined up a possible winner in sudden death, had seen enough of his rival. [Tiger Woods golfing]

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY ROBERT BECK [See caption above--Steve Scott with eyes closed]

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY ROBERT BECK Nike cofounder Knight was left gaping at Woods's potential.[Phil Knight watching Tiger Woods golfing]