Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Tiger Woods speaks on tourney’s future

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Tiger Woods strode to the podium in the main room of Congressional Country Club in Bethesda with the slightest limp, the result of arthroscopic knee surgery that has kept out of competition since the Masters in April.

Yet, on Tuesday, attending the media day for the AT&T National, which will take place at Congressional from July 2-6, Woods, the most famous face in professional golf, said his rehab was on schedule. He will make a return the PGA Tour on June 12, at the start of the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines Golf Course in San Diego, and expects to play in the AT&T National, of which he is the host. He also spoke of the future of his tournament, which enters its second year.

‘‘Last year, everyone was stressed,” Woods said. ‘‘What we did in 112 days was unprecedented, and without the help of the board and the membership at Congressional, everyone at AT&T and all the sponsors and volunteers we could not have made that happen. We are looking forward to making this year happen, trying to build on what we did last year, try to make it even more exciting. With everyone here in the community as excited as they were last year, coming back and having this event here this year, it makes things easier.”

How long the event does stay in Montgomery County remains to be seen, though. While the membership at Congressional voted overwhelmingly to have its course host the tournament in 2008 and 2009, it will be shut down in 2010 in preparation for the U.S. Open, which Congressional will host in 2011. The AT&T National will have to find another home for those two years, and local options are getting a look, including the TPC Potomac at Avenel Farms — formerly TPC-Avenel — which is undergoing renovations to its clubhouse and course after last hosting the Booz Allen Classic in 2006 on the PGA Tour.

‘‘I have not stopped by Avenel today but I will certainly take a look at it when I am here playing the tournament,” Woods said. ‘‘We are looking at anything and everything right now. We know Congressional is not an option.”

Officials at TPC Potomac declined to comment on a potential visit by Woods this summer. However, if that venue or another one in the area is not to Woods’ and his foundation’s liking, then moving the AT&T National outside of the Washington area remains a possibility.

‘‘We have to explore every option, whether it is here or outside the area,” Woods said. ‘‘We have to explore all of them.”

For this year, though, fans that come to Congressional on the Wednesday of the tournament week will see a difference from a year ago. This year the ceremonial ‘‘first tee shot” will underscore the tie to the military and the Washington community that Woods has tried to foster. In addition to continuing the policy of admitting active duty military personnel to the AT&T National free of charge, the Tiger Woods Foundation sent equipment — donated by Woods’ equipment sponsor, Nike — to military facilities in the U.K., Afghanistan, Iraq, Germany, Japan and the U.S.S. Harry Truman. And after the Pentagon Channel records troops hitting those first shots, the balls will be sent to the AT&T National where 25 children whose parents are currently serving abroad will come to the first tee and hit a first shot with Woods.

‘‘We feel that the shot and these balls are our way of thanking these families for the support that they provide us,” Greg McLaughlin, president of the Tiger Woods Foundation, which runs the tournament, said. ‘‘We feel it will be a really great way to honor them as well.”

Woods also said he hoped he will have the chance to hand the trophy, which is a replica of the U.S. Capitol building, to himself. Last year, he had to hand it to K.J. Choi, who won while Woods finished in sixth place. Choi will return to the invitation-only field this year, along with Adam Scott, the Booz Allen champion in 2005, when it was played at Congressional, and Fred Funk, longtime PGA Tour pro and Takoma Park native who once coached the University of Maryland’s golf team.

‘‘As far as me giving the trophy to myself, that’s fine,” Woods said. ‘‘I don’t have a problem doing that. I really don’t. Hopefully, it will happen.”