- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 8, 2007

Once again yesterday Tiger Woods showed up in Washington without his clubs. But that’s OK; he’ll be back with them in July — unless, of course, the arrival of Eldrick Jr. interferes. (If the kid is smart, though, he’ll wait a few more weeks until the British Open at Carnoustie. His old man couldn’t break par there the last time, not once in four tries, and probably wouldn’t mind canceling.)

Anyway, it’s now official: Tiger Woods has his own PGA tournament … to go along with his own jet and own yacht. It will be called the AT&T; National — one of the “T’s” presumably standing for Tiger — and will be played the next two years at Congressional Country Club, members willing. After that, it could stay put, it could be moved to Avenel (currently undergoing an extreme makeover) or it could wind up at Robert Trent Jones Golf Club, Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said.

Not that it matters. You could hold the thing on the miniature golf course near the Germantown SoccerPlex, and as long as Woods was in the field, you’d attract a crowd. (There’d be plenty of room for parking on the surrounding fields, too.)

Yesterday’s press conference at the National Press Club filled in a lot of the blanks about the tournament. Who the sponsor will be, for instance. AT&T; must be thrilled to be connected with an event that Tiger plans to play in, inasmuch as he’s ducked the AT&T; Pebble Beach the last five years and has teed it up in the AT&T; Classic (previously the BellSouth) just once.

AT&T; boss Ed Whitacre made a funny joke at the beginning of his remarks. He said he usually came to D.C. to testify before Congress and that announcing plans for a golf tournament was much more enjoyable. If Woods weren’t involved, though, Whitacre would be better off getting grilled by the Senate antitrust committee. Just ask Jack Vickers, who pulled the plug on the International — and sent the Tour scurrying back to Washington — because Tiger could never seem to fit it into his schedule.

The tournament here, the Kemper/FBR/Booz Allen, used to be like that, too, but no longer. As Finchem put it, the Tour wants the AT&T; National to be “one of the most prestigious events in golf.” To which Whitacre added, “Washington deserves a premier stop on the PGA Tour.”

Indeed it does. Few areas have given professional golf more unqualified love than D.C. Aside from that, though, it just didn’t make sense that there was no annual tournament between Greensboro, N.C., and Rye, N.Y. How can that possibly be, given all the fans and all the classic courses in the Middle Atlantic region?

Fortunately, the AT&T; National will rectify that in a big way, it would appear. Especially if Congressional, a hallowed venue, can be persuaded to become the event’s permanent home. That’s what Woods would prefer, though he knows the tournament can’t be played there some years because majors are already booked (e.g. the 2009 U.S. Amateur and 2011 U.S. Open).

“It’s one of the greatest golf courses in the world,” he said. “I know when I played it in ‘97 [in the Open], it kicked my butt pretty good.”

We’re still in the drawing board stage, sure, but the AT&T; National has a chance to be an event like no other. Think about it: a golf tournament, starring the best player of all time, held in the nation’s capital over the Fourth of July — on a famous track, no less.

Then there’s the beneficiary: the Tiger Woods Foundation. Four or five years from now, Finchem speculated, the event could be generating $6 million annually for Woods’ Learning Center, youth golf clinics and other programs. And with the help of that money, Tiger could open a Learning Center on the East Coast. (He’s already scouting possible locations.)

“A pretty historic day” was how Tiger described it. “I remember when I first came on tour, my goal one day with my father [Earl, who died last May] was to host an event on the PGA Tour. I just wish he could be here to see it.”

As another way of honoring his dad, the Vietnam Green Beret — and, as a tribute to the U.S. military — the tournament will admit any active member of the armed forces free. No wonder the field will be “somewhat limited … more like an invitational,” according to Finchem. When all those servicemen and -women start flooding through the gates, there won’t be much room for golfers.

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