30 Wednesday morning, standing in the center of a crowd of some 200 people sloshing their way through the morning dew. Most of them hadn’t seen him before, and despite the relaxed nature of the Earl Woods Memorial Pro-Am, he put on a show with his muscular drives that, time and again, traveled well over 300 yards.
And he did it all with his playing partner - some guy named Eldrick - dunking his first shot of the day in a lake on the par-3 10th.
What, you thought Tiger Woods was the main draw at his own event? Maybe, but he wasn’t the subject of most of the cheers and catcalls from the crowd Wednesday morning. That would be Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, who stepped right into the middle of a small firestorm at the pro-am preceding this week’s AT&T National.
Woods, who knows Romo through a number of mutual friends - most notably his swing coach Hank Haney - invited the U.S. Open hopeful to play with him Wednesday because of Romo’s reputation as a scratch golfer. Those two, combined with House Minority Leader John Boehner, Ohio Republican, headlined the top foursome of the morning (Tom Dundon, a Dallas-based car broker and friend of Romo’s, rounded out the foursome, which admirably posted a combined score of 9-under par).
Romo’s girlfriend, pop singer Jessica Simpson, was on hand to perform the national anthem at the tournament’s opening ceremonies.
But here’s the problem with all that: Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell was also playing the pro-am. That little snub generated a fair amount of attention leading up to the tournament.
“For him to come to D.C., certainly I didn’t realize it was going to be this big a deal,” Woods said Tuesday. “He is a big golf nut and loves to play golf and has tried qualifiers for U.S. Opens before… and it’s just going to be a fun round but also an interesting one. Granted, he’s used to getting booed, and it is what it is. It comes with being, I guess, [in a] team sport away from home.”
Backed by a surprisingly large throng of Cowboys fans, many decked out in Romo jerseys, the quarterback took the attention in stride and held his own, playing 17 of the 18 holes from the back tees and outdriving Woods on several holes, though he lost the side bet between the two.
“Added to my spending fund, which was nice,” Woods joked during the opening ceremonies.
(Woods was wearing a white hat, blue golf shirt and gray pants. He could have passed for one of Cowboys coach Wade Phillips’ assistants.)
Romo smiled all morning both at supporters and hecklers, with the latter group getting bigger after the foursome made the turn. Asked before the second hole whether he was under par, Romo shouted back, “Who cares?”
His game also left a sizable impression on fans mostly familiar with him on a football field.
“I’m surprised how consistent he is,” said Brian Pettaway, a Centreville resident and Redskins fan who came out with his employer mostly to watch Woods. “He’s outdriven Tiger, and he’s more accurate with his driver.”
Reggie Pace, a network engineer from Fort Washington, grew up a Cowboys fan and got tickets to the pro-am a week ago when he heard Woods and Romo were playing together. He came dressed in a blue No. 9 jersey and a red Tiger Woods hat.
“It’s a dream pairing,” he said. “This is why I got off work.”
On the course, Woods and Romo mostly talked to each other, chatting about whatever two young men with money, muscles and a blond starlet on their arms chat about. Playing from the front tees and dutifully reading putts between drags on a cigarette, Boehner interacted with the two athletes only sparingly, mostly walking with his caddie while Woods and Romo walked together. There wasn’t much doubt about which of the three high-profile players had the most work to do, and Boehner made up for his sometimes-awkward scoop swing by thinking his way around the course.
He did hit a number of solid iron shots to set up his left-handed putting stroke, though the congressman drives right-handed.
But the unorthodox approach did yield one of the most impressive moments of the morning, when Boehner drained a 35-foot birdie putt on the eighth hole.
He also signed autographs and shook hands with fans before playing the fifth hole, saying, “I’ve got some time to do that stuff.”
Amid the laid-back nature of the round, Woods never lost sight of an opportunity to get some work in. When the foursome was backed up before the par-3 second hole, Woods hit extra putts from the No. 1 green, studying speed and break before chipping a few balls from the left rough to a tee that caddie Steve Williams had placed on the green.
In those moments - with Woods the dogged competitor and Romo unsure how to kill time while his partner practiced - it became most apparent the Cowboys quarterback was a little out of his element, as it did when he responded to coaxing from fans on the par-5 ninth and tried to hit the green in two, only to skim a fairway metal off a hill and into the left rough.
He spent a few minutes on the driving range talking to Campbell (who wondered whether all the Cowboys fans were flown in), and afterward the Redskins quarterback praised Romo’s game enough to nip any controversy in the bud.
“People made a big deal out of that, but I was one of only three people who play sports to be invited to play,” Campbell said.
And even when he was booed after his round during the opening ceremonies, Romo pumped both arms above his head.
“It was a good reception out here. There’s a lot more Cowboy fans than I thought,” Romo said. “Even the Washington fans, it’s all in good fun.”