- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Electricity has been restored to the AT&T; National.

A win by host Tiger Woods and pleasant weather throughout the week led to a dramatic surge in crowds for the D.C. area’s PGA Tour event, placing the tournament on solid footing as it prepares for a two-year stint away from the District.

Nearly 200,000 people came to Congressional Country Club over six days last week, nearly doubling the attendance at last year’s event and setting records on every day of the tournament.

“It was really a great week,” said Greg McLaughlin, the AT&T; National tournament director and president of the Tiger Woods Foundation. “We couldn’t have scripted it any better.”

The scene stood in stark contrast to 2008, when bad weather throughout the week and Woods’ injury-induced absence kept many fans away. Last year’s tournament drew 107,000 fans, never reaching 30,000 on any single day. This year, the Thursday crowd of 34,202 was about double that of the previous years, and galleries grew larger over the holiday weekend.

After both Woods and defending champion Anthony Kim posted low scores Thursday - Kim shot a course-record 62 - Friday’s attendance hit nearly 47,000, a tournament record. With the two men in the final pairing together Sunday, attendance reached almost 44,000.

The crowds also marked an increase of 60,000 over 2007, the tournament’s inaugural year, and were larger than any crowd at the former TPC at Avenel course in Potomac, which hosted most of the area’s PGA Tour events until 2006.

Woods said he felt a great buzz beginning Wednesday, when he teed off with Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo during the tournament’s pro-am event. Throughout the week, notable players like Jim Furyk, U.S. Open winner Lucas Glover and fan favorite Boo Weekley were in contention, boosting interest.

“It was just off to a great start, and I think the buzz started from there,” Woods said. “From then on, looking at the leader boards we’ve had, we had some pretty good players up there at the top of the board. That just adds to it.”

Other golfers said the atmosphere was more vibrant and often louder than most nonmajor events they play.

“The crowds are so good here. It was really fun,” said Bryce Molder, who finished in fourth place, five strokes behind Woods. “When Tiger is playing in a tournament, it’s just different. It just is. That’s what’s fun. You hear those roars, and it’s fun.”

The PGA Tour does not release official attendance figures for its events, but reports from other tournaments suggest the AT&T; will be one of the most highly attended events of the year. Many courses cap attendance at 30,000 each day, and some tournaments not featuring Woods draw less than that.

However, the Travelers Championship in Cromwell, Conn., did draw an estimated 240,000 to 250,000 fans, even without Woods in the field.

Meanwhile, television viewership rose significantly. CBS reported a 4.6 overnight rating for the tournament’s final round, more than triple that of last year. More than 7 million households tuned in between 6 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. to see Woods win. It was CBS’ highest-rated nonmajor since the Buick Invitational in January 2008.

The big crowds should help the Tiger Woods Foundation, which lost revenue this year because of a decline in sponsorships brought on by the downturn in the economy. McLaughlin said the tournament hopes to learn how much it raised for charity within the next 90 days.

The next two years, the AT&T; National will be played at Aronimink Golf Club in suburban Philadelphia, creating a challenge for tournament officials who now must market the event to a new group of fans and potential sponsors. The tournament will return to Congressional Country Club in 2012.

“There’s definitely a ramp up, for sure,” McLaughlin said. “It will be like 2007 to some degree in that we’ll be starting from scratch from a selling standpoint. It’ll definitely be a little bit of work and a process to get that going, but we’ll be able to rely on three years of great momentum we had here.”

McLaughlin on Monday promised free admission at Aronimink for any fan with a valid driver’s license from Maryland, Virginia or the District.

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