If you're ever in
the area," a fan told Phil Mickelson last Friday, "I'd love to show you
the State Department." To which the world's second-ranked golfer, who was
seven over par after two rounds of the inaugural AT&T National in
Bethesda,�Md., could have replied, "Well, I'm free this weekend."
� The fan, if you haven't guessed, was Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who
took up golf two years ago to give herself something more vexing to think about
than Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Condi was one of an estimated
140,000 spectators who last week roamed the wooded hills of Congressional
Country Club, just outside the nation's capital, to celebrate Independence Day
and to honor members of the U.S. armed forces.
Oh, and a bunch of
them were there to see and celebrate Tiger Woods.
That may sound
like too many objectives for a single golf tournament, but not in Washington,
D.C., where "mission creep" is a way of life. Throw in the fact that
Tiger was making his first public appearance since the birth of his daughter,
Sam Alexis, and you had a golf tournament disguised as a baby shower wrapped in
a national holiday.
It turned out to
be a resounding success for the PGA Tour. With its subtitle "Hosted by
Tiger Woods," the National was an 11th-hour replacement for the
International, a well-run Colorado tournament that folded after 21 years due to
poor television ratings and a lack of sponsors. The D.C. market was available,
ironically, because of the Tour's inability to find a new title sponsor for an
event that had lasted nearly three decades despite weak fields and an
undistinguished golf course, TPC Avenel.
opportunity in an otherwise bleak situation, Woods and PGA Tour commissioner
Tim Finchem decided to build a new tournament in the capital around the one
commodity that any Tour event needs to prosper in the Tiger Woods era: Tiger
Woods. Their models were the Memorial, a classy event that Jack Nicklaus hosts
every spring in Dublin, Ohio, and the Arnold Palmer Invitational, a snowbird
favorite in Orlando that Woods won four times in a row starting in 2000. Along
with his bankable name, Woods provided Finchem with a sponsoring charity (the
Tiger Woods Foundation), an experienced tournament director (TWF president Greg
McLaughlin), a sentimental touchstone (Tiger's career-soldier father, Earl, who
died in 2006) and a high-concept format (a USO-style tribute to America's
their lives on the line for us," Woods said last week, explaining the
National's gift of 5,000 tickets a day to active-duty service members. "The
least we can do is say thank you, come on in." If not for golf, Woods
added, he might have followed in the footsteps of his Green Beret father.
"I don't know what branch, but I certainly would have wanted to get into
the special-operations community."
effortlessly from the martial to the marital, Woods used his pretournament
press conference to satisfy the nation's curiosity about his infant daughter,
born on June 18, the day after Tiger finished second in the U.S. Open.
What was the time
line? "I flew, landed in Orlando, went straight to the hospital, and next
thing you know, we have Sam Alexis in our arms."
Why Sam? "My
father had always called me Sam. I would ask him, 'Why don't you ever call me
Tiger?' He says, 'Well, you look more like a Sam.' "
How does it feel?
"Well, it's something Elin and I talked about on our first night. 'How can
you love something so much that didn't exist the day before?' "