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First steps of famous pros

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Jack Nicklaus of Ohio State won the 1961 NCAA tournament. The legendary golfer will be the featured speaker at Thursday s tournament dinner.

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Before he was Tiger Woods, the most dominant professional golfer in the world, he was Tiger Woods, NCAA champion from Stanford.

Woods is one of many top pros who owned college golf s most jeweled crown before they went on to more fame and mega fortune on the PGA Tour. Jack Nicklaus, Ben Crenshaw, Phil Mickelson, Tom Kite, Curtis Strange and Scott Verplank were all NCAA individual champions, like Woods.

It was at the 1996 NCAA championship at The Honors Course in Chattanooga where Woods won his title. After shooting 69-67-69 in the first three rounds, Woods survived a poorfinal round and still finished 3 under, and ahead of the field.

Tiger built up such a big lead after three straight rounds in the 60s that he was able to shoot 80 in the final round and still win, which is unheard of, as far as final rounds go, Stanford coach Conrad Ray said.

Back then, he was the best college player, but I wouldn t say that other players were intimidated like they are today. At that point he hadn t achieved all of the fame and success he has now.

Nicklaus won his NCAA title when the tournament was an all match-play format. The Ohio native beat Peter Cook of New Hampshire, 5 and 4, and then eliminated Charles Layton of Georgia, 4 and 3.

In the semifinal round of the event, Nicklaus defeated Gene Hunt of Michigan State, 2 and 1, and then had to face Ohio State teammate Mike Podolski for the individual championship. Nicklaus won that match,5 and 3.

Crenshaw is one of just two golfers to win the NCAA crown three times, with Mickelson being the other three-time champ. In 1971, Crenshaw shot a then NCAA record score of 67-69-72-65 273 and became the first freshman to win the individual title while leading the University of Texas to the team championship at Tucson National Golf Club.

The following year, the NCAA was contested at Cape Coral Country Club in Florida, and Crenshaw tied Texas teammate Tom Kite for the championship as the Longhorns won a second straight team title.

In 1973, Crenshaw won his third individual crown in Stillwater, Okla.

Mickelson won his NCAA titles in 1989, 1990 and 1992. He is the only player to win the outright NCAA championship in his freshman and sophomore seasons. Mickelson shot an opening-round 63 to take command of the 1992 event.

Stanford s Ray, whose team won the NCAA title in 2007 and has qualified for the event at Inverness, said there is no single dominant player like Mickelson or Woods in the 2009 field.

Every year it seems like there are more and more players and teams that can win the NCAA, Ray said. Men s collegiate golf is very deep, and it takes four good days to win it.

Although he has never seen Inverness prior to this year s NCAA, Ray expects it to provide a classic championship venue, much like Woods encountered inTennessee in 1996.

The Honors Course was and is very difficult. It was long, narrow fairways, long rough, fast greens it was set up like a major all of which the NCAA championship is known for, he said.

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