- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 5, 2007

With hot dogs at the gallery snack shack and Old Glory flapping in the wind on the 18th green on the Fourth of July, one question was worth considering: Is the AT&T National the most American tournament in the history of golf?

“Based on what I have seen so far, I think it would have to qualify. Don’t you?” AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said as he strode past the U.S. Navy Band on his way to greet former President George H.W. Bush for the ceremonial opening shot. “We wanted this to be about the military, reflecting well on the military. It was all about honoring the people who are making the sacrifices.”

From Bush in his red, white and blue polo to Cynthia Ward of Laurel, who cheered from the gallery dressed as the Statue of Liberty, signs of Americana abounded yesterday at Congressional Country Club. Meanwhile, host Tiger Woods had a more muted approach to the holiday.

“He was wearing a blue and white outfit — blue pants with a little bit of white, so that kind of counts,” said Sgt. Maj. Mia R. Kelly, who played a pro-am round with Tiger. “He’s probably saving his red for Sunday.”

Woods still did more than his share to honor America. On the seventh hole of his round with Kelly and Sgt. Andy Amor, Tiger deferred to another Woods, handing caddy Sgt. Michael Woods his putter, which the 32-year-old from DeLand, Fla., used to sink a 15-footer.

“He asked me to put the bag down and called me over to him, and he asked me: ‘What do you see?’ ” Sgt. Woods said. “I said, ‘Fairway leans to the right. You should hit it to the left.’ And he said: ‘Here you go.’ So I took the putt.”

Bush joined Tiger, Kelly and Amor in playing the final few holes.

“I have the former president of the United States walking on one side and Tiger Woods on the other. It was just kind of surreal,” said a beaming Kelly, who matched her red shirt and shiny red Nikes with a pair of blue socks. “I appreciate what both [Tiger] and [Bush] have done for the men and women in uniform.”

The group then went to the first tee, where the band gave a stirring rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” as four Huey helicopters flew overhead.

“It’s rewarding — I grew up with the military — grew up playing golf on a military base. That’s where my home golf course was,” said Woods, whose father, Earl, was a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army and served two tours of duty in Vietnam. “They do so much for us that part of the general public doesn’t really understand or relate to. … So we really wanted to say thank you, and this is our small way of saying thank you.”

In Curtis’ defense

Even though the AT&T National is a new event, it is the closest thing Ben Curtis will have to defending a title from last year.

Curtis was one of six players to win at least twice last season, but both of the tournaments he captured — the Booz Allen Classic and the 84 Lumber Classic — were discontinued. So with this week’s event at Congressional Country Club situated across the street from his victory at TPC at Avenel, he is a de facto defending champ.

That is a significant change from a year ago, when he came to the area nearly three years removed from his breakthrough victory at the British Open. Curtis had done little to follow up the victory but rolled to a rain-delayed five-shot victory at Avenel that jump-started a strong finish.

He could use a similar spark this week. Curtis has made the cut 11 times in his last 13 starts, but his only top-10 finish of the year came at Bay Hill in March.

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