Host with the most, Woods works room

Realizing a dream with his own tournament, he swings into Congressional to plug July event

May 30, 2007|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,SUN REPORTER

Bethesda -- This is the world that Tiger Woods is living in: Even when he is not present, as long as his arrival is imminent, he can hold the attention of a room. He can make men and women, even the ones who live lives of wealth and privilege, crane their necks in anticipation every few moments as they glance at the door. He can make a room buzz and a posh country club twitter, make politicians, media members and millionaires nervous as they anticipate the first glimpse of sporting royalty.

Such was the case yesterday at Congressional Country Club. Woods was in town to promote the first PGA tournament he will host, the AT&T National, to be held the first week of July. He arrived at 2:27 p.m. -- only 12 minutes behind schedule -- peeking around the corner to steal a quick and quiet glance at the throng waiting to greet him in the banquet room of Congressional. Just a flash of his white and black Nike hat was enough to suck most of the noise and oxygen out of the room, but after a brief moment of silent awe -- My goodness, it really is him! -- Woods was showered with applause as he strode to the podium.

He did not look his best. He was quick to concede this. His eyes were red, his face weary. He was fighting a stubborn case of strep throat, he informed the room, and he wanted to apologize in advance for his sandpaper voice. He had been busy -- designing his first golf course, sharpening his game, anticipating the birth of his first child -- and had not been sleeping much.

"Usually I get three or four hours and I'm good to go," Woods said, not as an explanation or an excuse, but simply as a matter of record.

For the first five minutes of his news conference, while others handled the introductions, Woods wore a scowl as he scanned the room, looking like a man who wanted to be certain he knew where all the exits were in case he needed to stage an escape. But as the questions came, Woods' demeanor slowly warmed, and soon he was swallowing his raspy cough and flashing his recognizable toothy grin.

He talked about what an honor it was to have the Tiger Woods Foundation host a tournament, and pointed out the reasons, both personal and patriotic, he chose Washington, the week of the Fourth of July, as the location and date to hold it.

"It's our nation's birthday. It can't get any better than that," Woods said. "I wanted to make a very ardent outreach to the men and women who serve our country. I grew up in that household. I know what it's like, my father being in the military, and I know the commitment that it takes. And I have friends in the military, as well, so I know the level of commitment it takes for them in the things that they do."

To honor his father, Earl Woods, who died last summer, and because he wanted the tournament to have a "family atmosphere," Woods promised yesterday to make 30,000 tickets available (about 5,000 a day) to active military personnel and their guests interested in attending the tournament. He said he also had a personal hand in keeping ticket prices down for the event. Gallery and grounds passes are on sale for $20 for Thursday and Friday and $25 for Saturday and Sunday rounds.

"It goes back to the dream my father and I had of hosting our own tournament one day," Woods said. "I just wish he could be here to see it. He'd be very proud of what the foundation has been able to accomplish."

Woods also announced yesterday that Jim Furyk, Davis Love III, Adam Scott and Darren Clarke had agreed to play in the inaugural event, giving a boost to the field that was struggling to land big names. The one thing Woods could not promise, however, was his participation this year.

"My intent is to play," Woods said. "But my wife [Elin] has something to say about that. I love this golf course, and I want to be here, especially at the inaugural event. But as everyone understands, our No. 1 priority is our child. You get to witness the first time only once. I will be there with her at that moment."

The news conference was not without its moments of levity. What would Woods do, a reporter asked, if he were on the 18th green, holding a one-stroke lead, and got a call saying Elin had just gone into labor?

"Well, I'll have to play real quick, won't I?" Woods deadpanned as the room burst into laughter. "A [birdie] will win, won't it?"

Because Woods prefers to keep the public at arm's length and guards his privacy in an manner that can often be described as ruthless, his news conferences typically play out in a similar pattern. The media ask questions they hope will reveal a window into his private world, and Woods smiles, deliberately looks the questioner in the eye and then talks at length while saying very little. It is a delicate dance that suggests intimacy without truly revealing anything, and he has mastered this art better than any athlete since Michael Jordan.

Occasionally, however, Woods will encounter a question so unusual that even his unwillingness to touch it ends up revealing a sliver of truth about who he really is. He had one of those yesterday when a British reporter asked him, rather bluntly, if all his carefully scripted maneuvering was just a prelude to something bigger. Was he thinking, somewhere in the back of his mind, about running for the presidency someday?

"Hell. No." Woods fired back, as laughter again echoed throughout the room. "No. No. No."

He paused with a huge smile on his face, waiting for the chuckles to die down, and then repeated himself one final time.

"No. Next question."

kevin.vanvalkenburg @baltsun.com

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