Tiger Woods' first PGA Tour event and six more notable debuts

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All eyes were on Milwaukee when Tiger Woods made his professional debut in that city after an incredible amateur career in 1996.
By T.J. Auclair
PGA.com
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Series: Golf Buzz

Published: Tuesday, May 15, 2018 | 10:13 a.m.

A lot of weeks on the PGA Tour, there's a player in the field making his PGA Tour debut.
 
But not every debut is as hotly anticipated as some others.
 
For instance, no pro debut on the PGA Tour has come with more media attention than when Tiger Woods made his first start in the 1996 Greater Milwaukee Open, complete with the "Hello, world," press conference.
 
But, there are a few that have stood out since.
 
Jordan Spieth was still an amateur when he played his first PGA Tour event in 2010 at the Byron Nelson Championship -- the event being played this week on Tour. Spieth, 16 at the time, finished in a tie for 16th.
 
He eventually turned pro in 2013 and made his pro debut at the Farmers Insurance Open.
 
Along with Tiger and Spieth, here's a closer look at five other notable PGA Tour debuts. 
 
 
7. Justin Thomas
 
Justin Thomas, the 2017 PGA Champion, made his first start on the PGA Tour as an amateur at age 16 in the same state where he won his first major -- North Carolina -- at the Wyndham Championship.
 
It was a stunning start, too, as Thomas opened with a 65.
 
But, Thomas had an "MDF" that week (made cut, did not finish). That happens when 78 or more players make the 36-hole cut. If that happens, there's a secondary cut after 54 holes. That's what happened to Thomas. 
 
Thomas eventually turned pro in 2013. 
 
He made his first PGA Tour start as a pro in the 2013 Frys.com Open and had another "MDF," tying for 72nd. 
 
Thomas spent the majority of 2014 on the Web.com Tour and won the Nationwide Children's Hospital Championship late that season.
 
Based on his Web.com play in 2014, Thomas earned a spot on the PGA Tour the following season. He notched his first Tour win in the 2015 CIMB Classic and hasn't looked back since.
 
 
6. Jordan Spieth
 
A much heralded amateur player, Spieth got everyone's attention in the 2010 HP Byron Nelson Championship. That week, as a 16-year-old amateur, Spieth finished in a tie for 16th at 4 under. 
 
Here's a look at the letter Spieth sent early in 2010 asking for an exemption to the Byron Nelson: 
 
 
In 2012, after failing to advance to the Final Stage of PGA Tour qualifying school, the 19-year-old Spieth turned professional midway through his sophomore year at Texas.
 
Spieth's first PGA Tour event as a pro was the 2013 Farmers Insurance Open, where he missed the cut. The rest of that season was filled with highlights. Spieth would finish inside the top-10 in nine of his 23 starts, the best of which was his first PGA Tour win. That came n dramatic fashion at the John Deere Classic in July, where he holed a bunker shot on the 72nd hole to get in a playoff that he would go on to win.
 
 
5. Rory McIlroy
 
Rory McIlroy turned professional on September 18, 2007, the day before the Quinn Direct British Masters on the European Tour (where he spent most of his time early on). McIlroy finished 42nd that week.
 
 
McIlroy didn't make his first PGA Tour start as a professional until the 2009 WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, where he tied for fifth. His first PGA Tour stroke-play event as a pro was the next week at the Honda Classic, where he finished T13.
 
His first PGA Tour victory would come at the 2010 Quail Hollow Championship, his 17th start overall. 
 
 
4. Sergio Garcia
 
Spain's Sergio Garcia was just 16 years old when he played in the 1996 Open Championship. As an amateur, that was his first PGA Tour start. He shot rounds of 76-73 to miss the cut.
 
Garcia would turn pro immediately after being low-amateur at the 1999 Masters. 
 
In his first start on the PGA Tour as a pro that year, Garcia finished tied for third at the GTE Byron Nelson Classic.
 
He really turned heads five starts later in the PGA Championship at Medinah, where he finished second to Tiger Woods. 
 
Garcia's first PGA Tour win came in the 2001 MasterCard Colonial. Throughout his career, Garcia has spent time playing both the PGA and European Tours. So, it's fair to point out that while his first PGA Tour win didn't come until 2001, he did win on the European Tour in just his sixth start as a pro. 
 
 
3. Phil Mickelson
 
Phil Mickelson's first PGA Tour start came as an amateur in the 1988 Shearson Lehman Hutton Andy Williams Open. He missed the cut there with rounds of 74-71. 
 
In his sixth PGA Tour start -- still as an amateur -- Mickelson won the 1991 Northern Telecom Open in Tucson. He was just 20 years old and became only the sixth amateur to win a tour event and the first in over five years after Scott Verplank at the Western Open in August 1985. 
 
Mickelson eventually made his pro debut in the 1992 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. 
 
"I can look back on this day 20 or 30 years from now and say I birdied my first hole in my professional debut," he said then. "I had a 68 in that round, and it was the U.S. Open Championship."
 
Mickelson, however, shot 81 in Round 2 to miss the cut. 
 
In his 15th career PGA Tour start as a pro, Mickelson won the Buick Invitational of California at Torrey Pines. 
 
 
2. Tiger Woods
 
Tiger Woods was just 16 years old when he made his debut on the PGA Tour at the 1992 Nissan Los Angeles Open. Still an amateur at the time, Woods missed the cut with rounds of 72-75 for a 36-hole total of 5-over 147.
 
 
Woods would make his professional debut four years -- and three U.S. Amateur wins -- later at the Greater Milwaukee Open. He tied for 60th that week at 7 under. He won for the first time in his fifth career PGA Tour start at the Las Vegas Invitational on his way to becoming arguably the greatest golfer of all time. 
 
 
1. Jack Nicklaus
 
Jack Nicklaus qualified for five U.S. Opens as an amateur before eventually turning pro at the end of 1961. His first U.S. Open appearance was in 1957 at age 17, where he missed the cut at Shinnecock Hills -- also the site for the 2018 U.S. Open.
 
In the 1960 U.S. Open at Cherry Hills, where Arnold Palmer staged the greatest comeback in U.S. Open history, erasing a seven-stroke deficit during the final round to win his only U.S. Open title, Nicklaus -- still an amateur -- was the runner up.
 
Nicklaus made his PGA Tour debut at the 1962 Los Angeles Open. The 21-year-old Golden Bear made the cut, but finished last, in a tie for 50th. 
 
In his 17th start, Nicklaus won for the first time and, boy, was it a big one. He defeated hometown hero Palmer in a playoff at Oakmont to win the U.S. Open. It was the first of Jack's four U.S. Open titles and the first of his record 18 major wins.
 
 

T.J. Auclair is a Senior Interactive Producer for PGA.com and has covered professional golf since 1998, traveling to over 60 major championships. You can follow him on Twitter, @tjauclair.