ATLANTA (AP) – Tiger Woods knew he was ready to turn pro when he shot a 66 at age 20 in the second round of the 1996 British Open at Royal Lytham & St. Annes. He closed with a pair of 70s and tied for 22nd, his best finish as an amateur in 14 professional events. His father referred to it as his “coming out party.''
Woods won the U.S. Amateur for the third straight time a month later, turned pro and was on his way.
For Jordan Spieth, his moment of realization came at the U.S. Open when he was 18.
His amateur career was nowhere nearly as decorated as Woods, though the Texan experienced early on what it was like to play deep into Sunday afternoon at the Byron Nelson Championship as a 16-year-old.
Spieth made the cut on the number at The Olympic Club last summer. He closed with rounds of 69-70, a 36-hole weekend score topped only by winner Webb Simpson. He was low amateur at the U.S. Open, tied for 21st at 7-over 287.
“So being able to play the weekend of a major championship under par – at a U.S. Open under par – I think is when I sat back said, `You know, maybe I'm ready to go,''' he said.
Spieth went back to Texas for the fall semester, turned pro and was on his way.
“I actually announced pretty much to my family and coach that I was turning pro that summer,'' Spieth said. “Then I just turned after the fall season.''
Neither of them had PGA Tour status when they turned pro.
Spieth started on the Web.com Tour, got his break when he tied for second in the Puerto Rico Open, and had enough money to secure his card five months into the season. Then he won the John Deere Classic to earn instant membership.
Woods needed only five starts to get his first win, in a playoff over Davis Love III, and then won again at Disney to qualify for the Tour Championship.
Woods didn't play in the Presidents Cup. The matches were held in 1996 the same week as the Quad City Open (now the John Deere Classic). Woods had the 54-hole lead, and the national golf writers left the Presidents Cup to cover his final round. Ed Fiori wound up winning.
For Woods, it was one of the few times he thought about money.
“After having the lead there and playing that poorly, I could have (had) my card right there,'' he said. “If I won the final round, I would have had a two-year exemption. I didn't have to worry about it luckily because I won the Masters, and the Masters is a 10-year exemption.''
FINISHING STRONG: David Toms was resigned to using a one-time career money exemption to keep his PGA Tour card for 2013-14. In 13 events, he missed the cut six times and four other times didn't crack the top 50. It would have been even worse except for that tie for 13th in the Masters.
The last three tournaments changed everything.
He shot a 69 in the final round of the Reno-Tahoe Open (eight points in Stableford scoring) to tie for 16th. He closed with a 67 at Oak Hill and finished alone in seventh. And at the Wyndham Championship, he had a 62 in the final round to tie for 16th.
Toms didn't make the FedEx Cup. That 62 moved him up to No. 123 on the PGA Tour money list, allowing him full status for next year. Toms turns 47 in January.
LEFTY'S SCHEDULE: Phil Mickelson will have played 24 times by the end of the year, not including the Presidents Cup, and he's looking to cut back.
“As I look back on this year, I had some great highs and I had some lows,'' he said. “I think that I don't play at my highest level every single week. I have kind of ups and downs, and I'm a very emotional player. I think that I'm going to have to factor that into some of my scheduling and maybe cut out 25 percent of my events in an effort to play at a high level when I do play. Because I'm not able to do it 25 weeks a year.
“Maybe I can do it 18 or 20, though.''
Mickelson played five straight weeks to start the year. He won the Phoenix Open in his third event, the only time he finished in the top 20. His back-to-back wins in Scotland were part of a three-week stretch that began when he missed the cut at The Greenbrier.
He played six of the last eight weeks on the PGA Tour, and his only top 10 was at The Barclays when he closed with a 65.
SINGHING SOFTLY: The Champions Tour is quick to promote the debut of just about any player who turns 50. Curiously – or not – there was not a word said about Vijay Singh playing for the first time last week in Hawaii.
Singh is in the World Golf Hall of Fame. He won 34 times on the PGA Tour, including a record 22 times after 40, and he has three majors. He was PGA Tour player of the year in 2004. He has played on the Presidents Cup team eight times.
Worth noting is Singh also has a lawsuit pending against the PGA Tour for the way it handled its investigation of his admission that he used deer antler spray, which was believed to contain a banned substance under the tour's anti-doping program.
Perhaps the bigger surprise was that Singh did television interviews during the tournament. He was tied for the lead at one point Sunday until a collapse on the back nine.
Meanwhile, the European Tour sent out a release Tuesday that Singh is playing the Dunhill Links Championship, his first regular European Tour event in three years.
DIVOTS: Brandt Snedeker has filled out a three-week trip overseas by confirming he will play in the Australian PGA on Nov. 7-10. Snedeker also plans to play in Malaysia and the HSBC Champions in Shanghai the preceding two weeks. … The 65 by Steve Stricker in the final round of the Tour Championship was his 60th round in the 60s during the FedEx Cup playoffs. Mickelson and Jim Furyk are next at 51. Furyk has the most rounds of par or better in the playoffs at 79, followed by Stricker at 78. … Woods won the PGA Tour money title with $8,553,439. Even in a shorter season, it was the highest amount to win the money title since Woods last won it in 2009 with just over $10 million. … Sir Michael Bonnallack, Britain's most decorated amateur, has been made an honorary member of The Royal & Ancient Golf Club. Bonnallack is a former captain and secretary of the club.
STAT OF THE WEEK: Rory McIlroy started the year at No. 1 in the world and has not won a tournament. The last player who was No. 1 going into the year and failed to win on any of the main tours was Greg Norman in 1991.
FINAL WORD: “Jordan right now is on one of those stretches, and I suspect because of his youth and he's learning the golf courses, he's only going to improve. But he will probably have problems in his career, just like anybody else does, and that will define him and define his character, how he deals with that.'' – Tom Watson on Jordan Spieth.