- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 26, 2013


Baskets of fuzzy orange, black and white tiger club covers rested next to the entrance of Congressional Country Club’s golf shop, untouched by refugees from the shirt-soaking afternoon humidity.

A few feet away, next to “Congo Swim and Dive” sweatshirts, two AT&T National volunteers picked through piles of keepsakes Wednesday.

“You think he’s really hurt, his elbow?” the woman asked.

“Nah, I’m not sure,” the man replied.

Tiger Woods, right, smiles as he stands next to PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem, left, before an opening ceremony at the AT&T National Golf tournament, Wednesday, July 26, 2013, in Bethesda, Md. Woods will not play in the tournament because of a left elbow strain. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
Tiger Woods, right, smiles as he stands next to PGA Tour Commissioner ... more >

The question hung in the air-conditioned cool. Tiger Woods is everywhere at the tournament he hosts this week except the place everyone wants to see him: the Blue Course’s 18 stroke-sucking holes.

Woods doesn’t plan to return until next month’s British Open, recovering from a strained left elbow that put him under doctor’s orders not to pick up a club. But the withdrawal — Woods’ third from his own tournament in the past six years — adds to questions about the event’s long-term future in Washington.

When Woods pulled out last week, a 132-golfer field already light on big names took a body blow without the world’s top-ranked golfer. The event lost its roar.

Then Justin Rose withdrew Monday, citing exhaustion following his U.S. Open victory at Merion Golf Club earlier this month.

That left just three of the world’s top 20 golfers — Jason Day, Masters champion Adam Scott and Brandt Snedeker — and precious few household names to draw the attention or dollars of casual fans. The same spasm of anticipation that greeted Bryce Harper’s round of batting practice at Nationals Park on Sunday morning felt as distant as a spot out of the searing sun. More buzz surrounded the adventurous red panda named Rusty who briefly absconded from the National Zoo earlier this week.

There’s no truth to the rumor, at least not yet, that the red panda is next up on the AT&T National alternate list.

Asked Wednesday about the tournament’s buzz, or lack thereof, Woods twice used the word “fantastic.” He invoked wounded warriors (the tournament donated 30,000 tickets to service members and their families), talked about freedom and giving back. All the nonanswer lacked was sparklers, flag-waving and Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.” This seemed less a golf tournament than a patriotic exercise.

Asked again, Woods deflected the question back to the clattering cameras and onlookers pressed against temporary walls in the interview room. The tournament’s defending champion didn’t have an answer.

“I don’t know,” he said. “You guys are in the media.”

Woods can transform the most lackluster of fields, energize the most languid of tournaments with speed that rivals the misters scattered throughout Congressional’s grounds. Subtract him and the sticky, uncompelling reality fast closes in.

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