Woods decides not to play in Kemper

No. 1 player chooses U.S. Open preparation over stop outside D.C.

Golf

May 25, 2002|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

The Tournament Players Club at Avenel will be a little quieter than some there anticipated for next week's Kemper Insurance Open.

Tiger Woods isn't coming.

After much speculation the past few weeks that the world's No. 1 player would make his first appearance in the Washington area since the 1997 U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Woods announced yesterday that he would skip Kemper to prepare for next month's U.S. Open on Long Island.

Woods broke the news after finishing the second round of the Memorial Tournament in Dublin, Ohio.

"I don't feel that I can play Kemper and get ready for the Open at the same time," said Woods, who is 10 shots off the Memorial lead after climbing back to even par with a 2-under 70 at Muirfield Village Golf Club. "I don't have the energy enough for that."

Since returning from a month-long hiatus after winning the Masters, Woods has played three straight weeks, including his victory in the Deutsche Bank SAP Open in Germany that concluded Monday. Woods beat Colin Montgomerie there on the third extra playoff hole.

Instead of going to Avenel, Woods will likely head straight to Long Island to play a couple of practice rounds at the Bethpage Black Course. He then will return home to Florida before going back up for the Open, set for June 13-16.

The news that Woods wouldn't be coming to the Kemper was disappointing to the tournament's general chairman, but not as difficult to take as some might believe.

"It would have been great," Pete Cleaves said several hours after getting word of Woods' decision. "I feel a little bad for the fans in the area. He has a big fan base here. I hope the thing that doesn't get unnoticed is that we still have one of the greatest fields in Kemper Open history."

The field will be headlined by eight players ranked among the Top 50 in the world, including Chris DiMarco (11), two-time Masters champion Jose Maria Olazabal of Spain, former British Open champions Justin Leonard (24), Mark Calcavecchia (33) and Tom Lehman (39).

Two former No. 1 players, Greg Norman and Fred Couples, will also be in the field.

Norman was extended a sponsor's exemption along with two of golf's most heartwrenching stories -- Jeff Julian, who is fighting Lou Gehrig's disease, and Casey Martin, who uses a cart because of a degenerative leg condition.

"We're pleased with our field," said Cleaves. "We don't have to take second place to anyone."

This marks the second time in four years that Woods has come close to entering the Kemper field. In 1998, Woods had initially committed to the field before an injury prevented him from competing. It will be at least two years before Woods considers playing the Kemper again.

Next year's event will be held a week before the U.S. Open, when Woods will be practicing.

"He'll come one day," Cleaves said.

Just not yet.

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