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Woods gladly hands over putter on patriotic day

- 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.

"My game feels like it's right there," Curtis said. "It's just one or two shots here and there during the week."

Schedule change

Adam Scott's plans at the beginning of the year had him in Europe this weekend.

The addition of a tournament at Congressional changed all of that.

Instead of playing the French Open last week and then spending two weeks preparing for the British Open, Scott is back at the course where he finished tied for second two years ago at the Booz Allen Classic.

"The opportunity to come back to Congressional was too good too resist after playing well here the last time around and also being one week closer to the British Open," said Scott, who has not played since missing the cut at the U.S. Open. "Having just one week off in between sounded pretty good for me."

Sticking around

Takoma Park native Fred Funk isn't fading away even after turning 51 last month.

Funk won the Mayakoba Classic earlier this year — an event played the same week as the Match Play Championship — for his eighth career title. and he has finished in the top 20 in two starts since the U.S. Open. He also has an exemption through 2010 thanks to his victory in the Players Championship two years ago.

"I got out on the tour late, and I was 32 when I was rookie, and I worked so hard to be on the PGA Tour that I don't want to leave it until I have to," said Funk, a former golf coach at Maryland. "... It's a nice luxury to have. I can play until I'm 56 or 57 out here if I want to. I don't think I'll last quite that long, but we'll see."