Tiger’s New 4th Of July D.C. Tourney

Steve Murray
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Wednesday - March 14, 2007
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It seems a bit strange to say that Tiger Woods has just now attained rarefied status after a decade of dominance that includes 55 victories, 10 majors and more than $66 million in prize money. But that’s exactly what’s happened.

After being named host of the inaugural AT&T National in Washington, D.C., Woods has joins Jack Nicholas and Arnold Palmer as the only active players to host an official PGA event. Even more impressive, at the age of 32, he’s the youngest to do so, slipping by Bobby Jones - who had already retired - by two years, and Byron Nelson, who added his name to the Dallas tournament well after his playing days were over. The Target World Challenge, the California event Tiger started in 1999, is not an official PGA event.

Even though the tournament does not yet have a home, it does bear Tiger’s unmistakable stamp. He is giving free admission to active-duty military members - look for it to be a major draw for Pentagon big wigs in the luxury boxes on 18 - and that the charitable funds raised will go to build a Learning Center in the D.C. area. The first Tiger Woods Learning Center opened last year in Anaheim, Calif. His foundation will run the event.

While opening the July 4 weekend tournament to the U.S. military is a nice gesture, it is also brilliant marketing. That is not to say Tiger has ulterior motives. His father Earl spent 20 years in the Army and served two tours in Vietnam. But the combination of sport’s most dominant athlete and the nation’s capital awash in red, white and blue on national TV provides for good feelings and even bigger marketing opportunities that other stops will have difficulty matching. Toss in Washington power brokers and big money sponsors looking to make valuable contacts, and PGA commissioner Tim Finchem has to be frothing at the mouth.

And the tournament will need the help. Sandwiched between the U.S. Open and the Open Championship, aka the British Open, it has not been a good time for tournaments as top talent rests after one major and prepares for another.

So much was thought of this time frame that The International, whose spot is being taken by the AT&T National, wanted nothing to do with moving from the cool heights of Denver to the muggy heat of the East Coast without the world’s best player.

The most encouraging part of the tournament will be the educational opportunities offered to an area that desperately needs it. While the District of Columbia boasts the nation’s highest per capita personal income of nearly $55,000 (in 2005), it remains a city divided by race and economics. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service, 22 percent of the urban population in 2000 did not graduate from high school, while the FBI Uniform Crime Reports says D.C. has the nation’s highest violent crime rate. One of the Learning Center’s mottos is “trying to change the world.” If it can help just a few neighborhoods, it will make a big difference in D.C.

Having a successful minority-run event is of utmost importance to the PGA, but the push to get it moving and to promote it may have led to some early bad feelings. Finchem said the tournament most likely will have a limited field, something that didn’t make tour veterans Rich Beem and Brad Faxson very happy. Beem said he was “insulted” that the tournament is a virtual invitational and that it would cost players spots. Finchem has countered, saying the prestige of the tournament and the hot weather could play into the decision. Nicklaus’Memorial Tournament and Palmer’s Bay Hill Invitational offer 105 and 120 spots respectively instead of the usual full-field events that typically offer about 144.

Both Beem and Faxson are members of the Players Advisory Council, which reports to the tour’s policy board. That means their concerns will carry some weight. If push comes to shove, however, the tag-team duo of Woods and Finchem will get what it wants.

The combination of money and PGA support will ensure the tour-nament’s success. What remains to be seen is whether Tiger has the draw of personality among his counterparts that Jack, Arnie and Lord Byron did.

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