Tiger thinks players will start turning pro earlier

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BETHESDA, Md. – Times have changed since Tiger Woods turned pro in August 1996.

The 14-time major winner recognizes the proposed changes to how players earn PGA Tour status might force amateurs to join the paid ranks sooner than he did.

'It's probably more advantageous to turn pro a little bit earlier now because we don't have that – if it does get passed - you don't have that Q-School carrot at the end of it,' Woods said Tuesday.

Under a proposal being finalized by the PGA Tour, a player could no longer earn PGA Tour status directly through PGA Tour Qualifying School. Instead, they would have to spend a season on the Nationwide Tour and earn status through a three-event series combining the top 75 Nationwide Tour players and the first 75 PGA Tour players failing to maintain status.

A PGA Tour non-member can take up to seven sponsor's exemptions in a season and play in no more than 12 total events. Getting an early jump would help a young player, Woods said, by allowing them to use exemptions to finish in the top 10 of tournaments to gain automatic entry into proceeding tournaments.

Former UCLA standout Patrick Cantlay is trying that approach, making his second professional start this week at the AT&T National. Woods, whose agent Mark Steinberg also represents Cantlay, endorsed the approach of the 2011 U.S. Amateur runner-up.

'I think that gives you the best chance,' he said. 'You play the Masters. You get the U.S. Open. You get a couple majors under your belt. You get to play with your team in college, play your entire collegiate schedule. And now you've got a lot of tournaments under your belt, and then go ahead and turn pro and try and get your card.'

Woods turned pro later in the year than Cantlay, albeit under different circumstances. Woods remained an amateur to win a third U.S. Amateur title.

Before that unprecedented achievement, Woods was uncertain that summer if he was ready to turn pro. Like Cantlay, who shot a PGA Tour amateur record 60 last year in the second round of the Travelers Championship, Woods had a round that confirmed it was time.

'One of the things that I conversed with my dad at the time is that I didn't quite feel I was quite good enough to be a pro yet, until I played the British Open at Lytham and had a really good I think second round,' he said of the 5-under 66 he shot that day.

'It gave me a good sign that, you know what, I think I can do this.'