- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Tiger Woods said yesterday he is scrambling to lure many of the world’s top golfers to his AT&T; National tournament in July but said he remains confident the event will have one of the strongest fields on the PGA Tour.

Several top players, including Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els, have decided not to play the tournament. A host of others, including Vijay Singh, are still weighing their options.

“It’s hard,” Woods said during a press conference at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, which will hold the tournament this year and in 2008. “This time of year, a lot of Europeans are over in Europe playing getting ready for the British Open and their tour. This tournament is only 84 days old, and because of that a lot of guys already made up their schedules. Maybe the field will get better as we move a little closer, but right now it’s been difficult.”

Woods announced in February he would be the host of the AT&T; National during Fourth of July week, with his foundation designated as the primary charitable beneficiary. The tournament is invitation-only with a maximum of 120 players. It has a purse of $6 million, with $1.08 million going to the winner, making it one of the richest nonmajor tournaments on tour.

Notable golfers who have committed to play in the AT&T; National include Jim Furyk, Adam Scott, Charles Howell III, Davis Love III and Darren Clarke, still ensuring a relatively strong field for the inaugural event. Previous PGA Tour stops in the District, including the 2005 Booz Allen Classic at Congressional, were plagued with weak fields because of unfavorable dates. The date for the AT&T; National, nestled two weeks before the British Open and two weeks after the U.S. Open, is viewed as a prime date on the PGA Tour schedule.

The presence of Woods himself at the event is still unknown; he and his wife, Elin, are expecting their first child.

“I’m definitely going to try and play,” he said. “That’s my intent. Obviously, my wife has something to say about that. But I hope to play. There’s no doubt about that.”

Repeatedly yesterday, Woods expressed a deep affection for Congressional’s “blue” course, refusing to entertain the notion of a possible alternative site for the tournament. Congressional is scheduled to hold the tournament only this year and in 2008. It will be the host of the U.S. Amateur Championship in 2009 and the U.S. Open in 2011, making it unavailable to play host to another golf tournament. Beyond that, it is unclear where the tournament will be held, though TPC at Avenel in Potomac; Robert Trent Jones Golf Club in Gainesville, Va.; and Landsowne Resort in Leesburg, Va., have been named as possible options.

Asked whether he had a preference for where the tournament should be played in future years, Woods responded: “Right here.”

Though Congressional normally has a par of 72, it has shifted to par 70 for the AT&T; National at Woods’ insistence.

“All the players can blame me for the par 70,” Woods said. “It was par 70 for the U.S. Open in 1997, and it was a tremendous test that produced a great champion in Ernie Els. Everyone thought it was fair. It was difficult but fair.”

Previous tour stops at TPC at Avenel yielded winning scores between 10 and 20 strokes below par. Congressional president Stuart Long said winning scores for the AT&T; National should be in the single digits below par. Woods agreed and said he plans to request longer rough and faster greens in future tournaments.

“I know you guys don’t like that. … We’ll have it up, more of a test, more of a challenge,” he said.

The AT&T; National will be the first tournament to show off Congressional’s recent changes to the “blue” course. The club recently transformed the former par-3 18th hole into the 10th hole and took a hole from the club’s “gold” course and turned it into the par-4, 466-yard 18th.

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