- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Eight days after his furious Sunday rally at the Masters foundered at the finish line, Tiger Woods was at Congressional Country Club on Monday stumping for his golf tournament.

The AT&T; National again will take place at Old Blue (7,255 yards, par 72) around Independence Day weekend (July 2-5), and the 33-year-old Woods announced he will be joining an impressive list of early commitments in an invitational field that already includes Ernie Els, defending champion Anthony Kim, 2007 inaugural winner K.J. Choi, Paul Casey, Jim Furyk and 2008 U.S. Amateur champion Danny Lee.

“I’m sorry that I wasn’t able to come up last year. I was on my couch watching it,” said Woods, who was forced to miss last year’s event after undergoing reconstructive surgery on his left knee after winning the U.S. Open. “This year, I’m really looking forward to getting out there and hopefully winning the tournament.”

Woods collected his first post-op victory a month ago (Bay Hill). And while the 14-time major champion is still frustrated by his performance at Augusta National, the primary source of his post-Masters angst wasn’t the bogey-bogey finish that left him four strokes out of a three-man playoff won by Argentina’s Angel Cabrera.

“I was obviously disappointed I didn’t win. I was on the periphery of being in contention and right there in the mix. I was just a fraction off, and I didn’t putt well until Sunday,” said Woods, who finished tied for 47th in putting among the 50 players who made the cut. “But I got almost as much as I could have gotten out of my round on Sunday.

“The way I warmed up and hit it on Sunday was not very good. That was a round I probably should have shot 1- or 2-over par, and I turned it into a 68. The other days, I turned rounds in the high 60s into scores in the 70s. That’s something you can’t do there and expect to win, and I did it three times. In the end, that’s what cost me a very good chance to win the golf tournament.”

Though Woods is expected to make three starts in the interim (Wachovia, Players Championship and Memorial), golf’s No. 1 is already pointing toward the season’s next major, in which he hopes to replicate his 2002 U.S. Open coup at Bethpage Black (June 18-21).

“It was an unbelievable atmosphere,” Woods said of his three-stroke victory over Phil Mickelson. “We weren’t too far removed from 9/11, and I think the whole city was just looking for something to wrap their arms around, any sporting event, anything to take themselves out of that moment in time. And the U.S. Open was that event.”

The son of a career military man, Woods is intent on fostering a similarly patriotic sentiment at the AT&T; National. The event again will donate 30,000 tickets to retired and active military personnel in the area. Last year, the tournament raised $2 million for charity, a large percentage of which was earmarked for the education and instruction of at-risk or disadvantaged youth.

But the sluggish economy has affected perhaps the world’s wealthiest athlete. Woods’ foundation still hasn’t settled on a D.C. location for his Tiger Woods Learning Center. Woods and his team are hopeful that concrete plans for the East Coast version of his original facility in Anaheim, Calif., will be solidified by tournament week.

“It certainly has been a little more difficult than we would have liked,” Woods said. “It’s not exactly the best time to be trying to raise funds for a learning center. This whole financial climate has made things a lot more complicated, but we’re narrowing it down, and we’ve got some good things happening now.”