- The Washington Times - Friday, July 6, 2007

Lots of folks give lip service to supporting our troops, but golfer Tiger Woods has put his money where their jive talk is.

“We wanted this to be about the military, reflecting well on the military. It was all about honoring the people who are making sacrifices,” said Randall Stephenson, the chief executive officer of name-sponsor AT&T

Thank the Tiger. More than 300,000 active-duty military personnel will be given free tickets to attend the AT&T National golf tournament through this weekend at Congressional Country Club because of Woods” largess. His father, the late Earl Woods, was a Green Beret and retired from the Army as a lieutenant colonel.

Hey, my dad”s name is Earl. Does that mean I can claim something in common with the Tiger? (Some folks will grasp at any straw to get up and personal with a big cute cat, just as the area”s leaders and fans would do anything to forge a permanent Washington-Woods connection.)

The chance to repay our servicemen and women through free tickets, Woods said, “gives me chills already. All my life I”ve been part of the military.”

Two Iraq war veterans, Sgt. Andrew Amor and Sgt. Maj. Mia Kelly, also got the chance to play a round with their host and sponsor when he teed off at dawn on Wednesday in the Pro-Am.

“It”s what they call a ‘gimme,’ ” said former President George Bush, who hit the tournament”s ceremonial first shot.

Woods, 31, grew up on military bases and said he learned to play the game on military courses. At a press conference, he noted that he told his father that he might join the military if he was not successful as a professional golfer.

Local soldiers and their families are not the only group that will benefit from this all-Americana golf tournament, held as the nation celebrates its birthday. The entire Washington region stands to get a big bang from the Tigermania — psychologically as well as financially.

This is really Tiger“s Tournament, Tiger“s Time and could very well become Tiger“s Town. (If only wishes made it so.) That”s if the Washington area remains the annual patriotic venue for this world-class event on the PGA Tour, which local officials should work to ensure.

Tournament organizers say they are committed to keeping Tiger“s Tourney in the Washington area, though arrangements with Congressional are firm only through next year. Still, there are other nice courses in the region that could host Wunderkind Woods as a drawing card.

The AT&T National should become as much a July Fourth tradition here as the fireworks on the Mall. Having the world”s highest-paid athlete and No. 1 golfer working his mojo in our midst is bound to be good for the local economy, for starters, especially since the organizers have asked for no government goodies to play their games.

One reported estimate suggests that fans will fork over $7 million in hotel rooms and $7.7 million on food and other services during the five-day tournament, which features five of the top six golfers on the PGA tour, including Phil Mickelson.

The No. 2 golfer in the world, Mickelson told reporters that part of the draw for him was the way Woods incorporated the military and the community into the tournament.

“It”s great that Tiger“s in a position to host an event and be able to have such an effect on so many lives, [not the least because of] his Tiger Woods Learning Center. … I think this can really be one of the elite events. It looks like it”s already starting.”

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