Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus had strikingly similar pro debuts

By T.J. Auclair
Published on
Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus had strikingly similar pro debuts

On January 4, 1962 -- 56 years ago today -- the great Jack Nicklaus made his professional debut at the LA Open.

In that first round at the Rancho Park Golf Course in West Los Angeles, the 21-year-old Nicklaus recorded a 3-over 74.

Though he would make the cut, Nicklaus finished the tournament in a tie for 50th -- last place -- and collected a check for $33.33.

Luckily for Nicklaus, things would get better. Much better. He'd end his career with 73 PGA Tour victories and a record 18 major championships.

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On the anniversary of Nicklaus's debut over a half century ago, it got us wondering how the only other golfer who can compare to him -- Tiger Woods -- made out in his pro debut.

Woods, 20, made his first start in the professional ranks on August 29, 1996, in the Greater Milwaukee Open at Brown Deer Park Golf Course in Glendale, Wisconsin, just four days after winning his third consecutive U.S. Amateur.

Tiger got off to a much better start than the Golden Bear, opening with a 4-under 67, five shots behind first-round leader Nolan Henke.

In Round 2, Woods shot 69. Though he was eight strokes behind the leaders, he made the 36-hole cut at 6-under 136.

A third-round, 2-over 73 was Tiger's worst score of the tournament and he followed it with a final round 68 to finish in a tie for 60th, 12 strokes behind Loren Roberts, who beat Jerry Kelly in a playoff.

Woods was four strokes ahead of last-place finisher, Payne Stewart, but -- like Nicklaus -- it was nothing to write home about.

That said, Woods did have a "wow" moment in his pro debut. It came on Brown Deer Park's par-3 14th hole in the final round. With the hole playing 188 yards, Woods opted for a 6-iron.

The result? He jarred it for his first ace as a pro.

Just like Nicklaus, Tiger's pro debut would not be indicative of the career he was about to embark on... but his haul of $2,544 was significantly better than Jack's $33.33.

To date, Woods has 79 wins -- second only to Sam Snead's 82 -- and 14 major titles, also second all-time.

While those first starts for Nicklaus and Woods weren't special, they quickly gave us a preview of things to come in majors. Nicklaus won his first professional tournament in his second major start as a pro at the 1962 U.S. Open played at Oakmont.

Woods, meanwhile, won the 1997 Masters by a whooping 12 strokes -- his first major start as a pro.