- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 7, 2007

That 29-inch putt Tiger Woods blew in the first round of the AT&T; National? Heck, that was nothing. Let me tell you about what happened to Bing Crosby in the first tournament he ever hosted in 1937.

For starters, the event had to be shortened from 36 holes to 18 because of rain — a veritable flood, really. Then Crosby, who would later father a U.S. Amateur champion, posted an 87, a mere 15 over par. Even his best shot of the day, an iron to four feet at the par-3 14th, was a prelude to disaster.

“While the gallery held its breath,” the United Press reported, “the crooner stepped up to the ball for his putt. Then, on his backswing, his club hit the ball and knocked it 10 feet further away from the hole.”

That’s right, folks, on his best birdie chance, ol’ Bing-o turned a four-footer into a 14-footer.

From such humble beginnings was born one of the PGA Tour’s most enduring and popular stops. Translation: Every first-year tournament has its hiccups — and first-year tournaments hosted by Well-Known Personages are no exception. Take the first year of the Memorial (1976), Jack Nicklaus’ creation. …

The course it was played on, Muirfield Village, proved so onerous — thanks to Jack, the diabolical designer — that nobody finished under par. How tough was the set-up? Mark Hayes shot an 82 in the second round and still made the cut. The next day, even the Golden Bear got caught up in the carnage, quadruple-bogeying the par-3 12th.

Worse, many of the big names failed to show. Arnold Palmer and Gary Player were over in England, competing in the British PGA (which Arnie had won the year before). Billy Casper also sent his regrets, and Tom Watson and Raymond Floyd withdrew. Thus, the inaugural Memorial came down to a playoff between Hale Irwin and Roger Maltbie, and — in accordance with Murphy’s Law — Maltbie, the one who didn’t go on to capture three U.S. Opens — prevailed.

So let’s not agonize too much about Tiger’s missed gimme in Round 1. Or his 73 start — which could prove difficult to overcome, despite yesterday’s 66. I mean, at least he hasn’t knocked any putts backward. At least he hasn’t recorded any quadruple-bogeys. And at least we’re seeing some good golf by some good players.

(As an added bonus, Roger Maltbie is nowhere to be found. He’s off covering the Senior Open — and Hale Irwin — this weekend for NBC.)

We also shouldn’t be too distressed that Phil Mickelson made a mess of the par-5 16th yesterday and missed the cut. After all, Arnie never won Jack’s tournament. And Jack, come to think of it, never won Arnie’s tournament, Bay Hill. So there’s a good possibility Lefty will never win Tiger’s tournament.

There’s even a possibility Tiger will never win Tiger’s tournament. This, too, wouldn’t be unprecedented. After all, did Sammy Davis Jr. ever win the Sammy Davis Jr. Greater Hartford Open? Did Danny Thomas ever win the Danny Thomas Memphis Classic?

Winning your own event isn’t easy. There are all these distractions — perhaps even a former U.S. president to entertain. For Tiger, it was George H.W. Bush, who hit the ceremonial first tee shot Wednesday. At Bob Hope’s first tournament in 1965, it was Dwight D. Eisenhower. Ike presented the trophy to winner Billy Casper. Richard Nixon didn’t attend the inaugural Jackie Gleason’s Inverrary Classic in 1972 — he was still in office — but he did send a golf bag and set of clubs to be auctioned for charity. (Jackie’s wife thought they could have gotten more for Vice President Spiro Agnew’s clubs, notorious driver of the ball that he was.)

All things considered, though, the first Tiger Woods Invitational is running as smoothly as John Daly’s Mercedes Maybach. Indeed, the attendance for the first two rounds (46,371) is believed to be a record for a Washington tournament, surpassing even the “97 Open. That certainly bodes well for the event’s future.

There’s concern, however, that Congressional won’t be willing to serve as the AT&T;’s permanent home, that Woods will have to move the tournament elsewhere, maybe even out of the area. Here’s a possible solution: Turn the redesign of Avenel over to Tiger. Let him make of the layout what he will.

It could be the first Tiger Woods Course in the U.S. (If not the world. A TW course is already under construction in Dubai, but there’s no telling how long it will take to complete. The camels, I’m told, have a very strong union.)

Imagine: Tiger setting up Avenel just the way he likes. Then he can win the tournament every year — that is, unless Roger Maltbie wheedles a sponsor’s exemption.

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