- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 1, 2007

This being Washington, Jack Abramoff’s town, we should have figured out how the game was played long before now. If you want to have a top golf tournament, you need the world’s top player. And if you want the world’s top player, you have to be willing to do business with him.

There are two ways of going about this. You can have your sponsor sign him up as a company spokesman (an appearance fee in sheep’s clothing) orrrrr … you can give him another kind of kickback by funneling some of the event’s proceeds into the Tiger Woods Foundation. Glad to see the organizers of the Greater Washington Whatchamacallit — name, sponsor and site to be announced — have gone the second route. It’s a much classier form of graft.

Am I being a tad too cynical here? Perhaps. But it’s no coincidence that Woods has played in two tournaments this year — the Buick Invitational and the WGC-Accenture-World Match Championship — and both sponsors happen to be his sponsors. Among the events he has passed up, meanwhile, are the Mercedes-Benz Championship (a Mercedes not being a Buick), the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic (a Chrysler not being a Buick) and last weekend’s Nissan Open (a Nissan not being a Buick).

Not to jump to any conclusions or anything.

Fact is, there isn’t a whole lot of wiggle room in Tiger’s schedule from year to year. He’s committed — childbirth willing — to playing the four majors, the three World Golf Championships, the Players, Arnie’s and Jack’s tournaments and three other events he has ties to (the two sponsored by Buick plus the Deutsche Bank, which involves his foundation). That’s about two-thirds of his Tour appearances right there.

So you’re really only talking about five or six weeks that are up for grabs, and timing plays a big part in it. Woods usually doesn’t, for instance, play immediately before or after a major, so if your tournament falls in one of those slots, forget it. Timing was always one of things that killed the Kemper/Booz Allen, even when it was held at Congressional instead of Averagenel.

Timing was also one of the things that killed the International, the quirky tournament outside Denver that called it quits last month, reopening the door for Washington. Fortunately for us, the International was given a different date when the Tour juggled its schedule this year — three weeks after the U.S. Open instead of the week before the PGA Championship. That’s why Woods was receptive to the idea of aligning himself with the D.C. event; it fits.

For an area that has played host to three U.S. Opens (and soon a fourth) and one PGA, Washington has been treated with appalling indifference by the Tour — especially when you consider how well it has supported a third-tier tournament. (I mean, don’t they know Freddie Funk hails from here?) Yes, we got thrown the Presidents Cup bone, but who wouldn’t rather see those guys tee it up annually in a 72-hole stroke play event?

Arnold Palmer played here a grand total of four times in his career (‘64 Open, ‘76 PGA, ‘80 Kemper, ‘86 Chrysler Cup). Jack Nicklaus graced us with his presence on three occasions (‘64 Open, ‘76 PGA, ‘82 Kemper). And neither, of course, ever won. Woods hasn’t exactly distinguished himself, either, in his three drive-bys, tying for 19th in the ‘97 Open and suffering his usual match play malaise in the Presidents Cup.

But maybe our luck is about to change. Looks like Congressional might be willing to play the gracious host for a year or two until Avenel is fixed up or some other suitable venue is found. As for Tiger, his mere presence should guarantee a much stronger field than we’ve had. (He could needle his buddies by telling them, “We’re going to call it the Second Place Invitational because you’ll all be playing for second place.”)

Nice recovery, Tim Finchem. A year ago, when Booz Allen pulled its sponsorship rather than get jerked around on dates, the commissioner was the most hated man in Washington golf. How could there be no Tour event in the nation’s capital? It was a decision he and the sport seemed destined to regret — Finchem’s Folly.

But now our tournament is back and, from all appearances, better than ever. Who saw this coming? And who in a million waggles could have imagined Tiger Woods, the Biggest Name in Sports — and a player who, in the past, never had much time for Washington — being the one who saved the day?

It’s the golf equivalent of Michael Jordan signing a contract with the Wizards. The only differences are that (a.) Tiger might still be ascending as an athlete, and (b.) Michael is by far the better baseball player.

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