Two years after pulling together the first PGA National on short notice, top-ranked Tiger Woods is back in the shadow of the US capital for his least-heralded golf role — tournament host.
Woods will be the main attraction and his foundation the chief organisers when the $6 million National, a key tune-up event two weeks before the British Open, tees off on Thursday at Congressional Country Club.
Don’t imagine that 14-time major champion Woods, who missed last year’s event due to left knee surgery, is not hungry to swipe the $ 1 million top prize from his 119 invited rivals just because he’s hosting the party.
“Last year I was on the couch wanting to be here,” Woods said in an April promotional appearance. “I can’t wait to get out there. I’m looking forward to playing and hopefully winning.”
Woods joins legends Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus in hosting a PGA event two weeks before a major and could complete a mini-slam of sorts by capturing his own tournament this year over the US Independence Day weekend.
Woods won the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, taking his first title since returning from an eight-month layoff ahead of a shared sixth-place finish at the Masters. In early June, Woods won the Nicklaus-hosted Memorial ahead of a sixth-place effort at the US Open.
Woods, whose late father Earl was a member of the Green Berets, will honour the US military all week. Proceeds benefit the Tiger Woods Foundation, which has had an impact on more than 10 million youth since being founded in 1996. Tough economic times have hit several PGA events but sponsor tents and solid support for Woods are seen all across the 7,255-yard par-70 course, which will play host to the 2011 US Open.
“The financial climate, it makes things a little more interesting,” Woods said. “But we have gotten just a tremendous amount of support.”
The National will move to suburban Philadelphia in 2010 and 2011 so Congressional can prepare for and host the 2011 US Open, but the tournament will return to Congressional from 2012 to at least 2014.
“We want to come back and play at Congressional as long as Congressional wants us,” Woods said. “It’s a very historic golf course and one that players love. If you have a great course the players will come.”
New US Open champion Lucas Glover will play his third week in a row at Tiger’s event with plans to start next week in Illinois and the following week in the British Open at Turnberry.
“I’m going to keep those commitments. I feel that’s the right thing to do,” Glover said. “Just because I won a golf tournament doesn’t change anything. I’m going to honour that commitment.”
Defending champion Anthony Kim shared second in the season-opener at Hawaii but has not cracked the top-10 since. The US standout of Korean descent has shown signs of improvement with a share of 11th last week at Hartford.
“This year has been very frustrating,” Kim said. “Definitely was looking for far bigger and better things this year and it hasn’t turned out that way.”
Others in the field include England’s Paul Casey, three-time major winner Vijay Singh of Fiji, 2003 Masters champion Mike Weir of Canada, 2003 US Open winner Jim Furyk, 2009 US Open co-runner-up Ricky Barnes, New Zealand teen standout Danny Lee and 2009 US college champion Matt Hill of Canada.