Capital hopes for event ‘all about Tiger’

Tiger Woods, who revolutionized golf when he came onto the scene more than a decade ago, is about to do the same to the area’s sports scene.

In about 150 days, the world’s pre-eminent golfer has put together a world-class tournament by combining a top course, a major corporate sponsor, a star-studded field and a charitable initiative directed toward education.

In his spare time, he also played in the U.S. Open and became a father.

Play at Woods‘ inaugural tournament, the AT&T National, begins Thursday at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda. The tournament likely will be the area’s top sporting event — a status that is tied directly to Woods.

“It’s all about Tiger,” said Bob Sweeney, executive director of the Greater Washington Sports Alliance, a business group dedicated to attracting events to the area. “Not only is he the world’s greatest golfer, but he has the best name and the best marketability. It’s going to have an incredible impact on the city. Washington doesn’t get these kinds of opportunities in the sports world, not since [the Redskins] were in the Super Bowl.”

Tournament officials expect 30,000 to 35,000 spectators at Congressional each day, numbers that would make the tournament one of the most well-attended events on the PGA Tour. Early projections indicate that it will exceed its revenue goal by several million dollars, with an economic impact on the area approaching $100 million.

The arrival of Woods‘ tournament marks a stunning reversal of fortune for Washington golf, which was on the verge of losing its PGA Tour event after sponsor Booz Allen Hamilton dropped out last year, citing the PGA’s decision to move the tournament to late autumn.

The Booz Allen Classic and its precursors often struggled to lure a solid field — players generally disdained the host course at TPC at Avenel in Potomac — and some events were sparsely attended. Woods, who usually participates in fewer events than most players, always was noticeably absent.

The AT&T National, however, announced an invitational field that includes the world’s top four players: Woods, Phil Mickelson, Jim Furyk and Adam Scott. Also present will be Vijay Singh, Geoff Ogilvy, Mike Weir, Davis Love III and Angel Cabrera — all winners of at least one of golf’s four major championships — making it one of the strongest fields of any non-major.

Moreover, Woods announced that his Tiger Woods Foundation will be the primary charitable beneficiary of the tournament. The foundation hopes to eventually raise more than $25 million to build a learning center in the District modeled after one constructed last year in Anaheim, Calif. A feasibility study is under way, and a decision on a location is expected to be announced by early next year.

“What a difference a year makes,” said Mr. Sweeney, who personally wrote letters to PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem urging him to bring an event back to Washington. “It’s unbelievable.”

The decision by the tour to hold the event at Congressional Country Club played a role in boosting the field. The course has a stellar reputation among PGA Tour players and earned rave reviews as host of the U.S. Open in 1997.

“It’s one of the greatest golf courses here, not just in the United States but around the world,” Woods said. “You won’t have events like that come to your golf course unless you are premier caliber.”

What isn’t clear, however, is whether Congressional would have agreed to play host to the tournament without Woods‘ involvement. Consider that television ratings for the final round of last month’s U.S. Open, in which Woods was in contention on Sunday, rose 37 percent over 2006, when he missed the cut. Woods‘ withdrawal from last week’s Buick Championship after the birth of his daughter led to a dip in attendance of 5,000 to 10,000, tournament officials reported.

In fact, the AT&T National likely would not even exist were it not for the cancellation of the International, a Denver tournament in which Woods never played. Officials of that event said it became impossible to attract the requisite number of sponsors and spectators without Woods in the field.

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