Woods proves he's host with the most
BETHESDA, Md. -- Here he is: Tiger Woods, global icon. The tall, muscular, recognizable figure emerges from behind a long black curtain and sits down in front of an interview room filled to standing room only capacity at precisely 1:04 p.m., flashbulbs popping, reporters eagerly awaiting his every word. He mouths the word "wow," in response to the overflowing throng, but it shouldn't surprise him anymore.
Studies have shown that Woods is the world's most recognizable athlete, but there is no way to quantify how compelling a person is. If there were, Tiger would be off the charts. After all, how many professional golfers can sidle up to a microphone on Tuesday of a regular-season PGA Tour event and provide newsworthy information simply by speaking their mind?
It's the same number who host their own tournament, who tee it up with former presidents in practice rounds, who have their names on multimillion-dollar learning centers. Woods' impact is truly influential, his reach so large that almost 800 total media credentials have been issued for his own AT&T National event this week. Attendance at Congressional Country Club should average more than 30,000 people each day, and The Washington Times reported that the tournament is expected to exceed its original revenue goal by several million dollars, with the local effect nearing $100 million in the Washington region.
"Hopefully, it will be a positive enough impact that we can donate an inordinate amount of charitable dollars to the local community here and to all of the children's foundations that we're involved in, as well as hopefully finding a site and building our own East Coast learning center," he claims. "That's the ultimate goal. This is the first step in that."
Here he is: Tiger Woods, new father. Is that smile a little more pronounced than before? The voice a little gentler? If so, it's because Woods and wife Elin welcomed their first child, a baby girl named Sam Alexis, into the world a little more than two weeks ago.
It's hardly a new concept, this idea of a dominant competitor fathering a child, but it does represent the next step in Woods' off-course life. Asked how he plans to balance family life with golf, Woods says, "Well, you just do. It's just time management and understanding where your priorities are, and our priorities are Sam. That's the one priority."
And he means it. That's the thing about Woods, he doesn't mince words when it comes to his internal feelings.
"Something that I think Elin and I talked about on our first night [after Sam was born], we said, 'How can you love something so much that didn't exist the day before?' " he says, showing a brief glimpse into a personal life he often keeps hidden.
He speaks of learning from his parents, Earl (who passed away last year) and Tida, who raised him to become so many things to so many people. He realizes that although he can afford any monetary luxuries his family could ever want, there are limits to how much time he can spend at home.
What if ...
Since finishing runner-up to Angel Cabrera by one stroke at the U.S. Open three weeks ago, then watching wife Elin give birth to Sam Alexis on Monday morning, Tiger Woods has been the subject of multiple hypothetical questions.
After all, what if he had made that final putt on the last hole? What if he had had to come back for an 18-hole playoff the next day? What if Elin had gone into labor earlier in the week?
On Tuesday, Woods answered the questions. Sort of.
"That didn't happen, so it would be all hypothetical," he said. "I'm not going down that road."
USGA officials have been equally evasive, allowing only that they will not answer hypothetical questions about situations that did not happen, so we're left to guess at what might have been.
However, Woods did intimate that Elin was admitted into the hospital's care Thursday of that week because of complications.
"It wasn't life-threatening or anything, but she just had a few problems and had to be admitted," said Woods, who remained in close contact with Elin through the tournament. "It wasn't easy. It was not easy because I wanted to be there. And the doctor and Elin said, 'There's nothing you can do. So go out there and just get a W.' Well, I came close. But that night was infinitely more rewarding than any W ever could have been."
Asked why the couple chose the name Sam for its first child, Tiger said it stemmed from his late father, Earl.
"My father had always called me Sam since the day I was born," he said. "He rarely ever called me Tiger. I would ask him, 'Why don't you ever call me Tiger?' He said, 'Well, you look more like a Sam.' I said, 'All right, that's cool.'"
"My mom and dad were always there for me, and I know I can't physically be there all the time," he says. "That's something that's going to be frustrating because you want to be there, and unfortunately I can't be there physically all the time, but I'll try and be there as much as I possibly can."
Here he is: Tiger Woods, tournament host. Officially, this week's event is called the AT&T National, but it quickly has taken on the simple moniker of "Tiger's Tournament," as his foundation has provided the support necessary to turn it into a major happening in just four months.
Woods is the only current golfer with his own PGA Tour event, joining Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and the late Byron Nelson as men whose names have been associated with certain weeks on the schedule. Even before the first ball has been teed up, the AT&T already is being considered among the upper echelon of tournaments, largely because Woods is a major part of the festivities.
"In addition to the golf course, you've got Tiger, so you know everyone is going to come out and play," Brett Quigley said Tuesday. "It's a testament to what he's done for the game and how much respect he has from other players."
Woods knows -- because he often says so himself -- that the game's best players come to a tournament when it's held on a world-class golf course, which is what he has secured this week. Congressional Country Club has hosted two U.S. Opens (with another coming in 2011) and numerous other championships and is already a favorite of players for its challenging layout and old-style charm.
"It's going to be one heck of a test," he says with all sincerity. "I think that's something that all of us as players will be looking forward to, and we've been very lucky and very blessed to have a great field this week."
Here he is: Tiger Woods future politician? Hey, he's already among the world's most recognizable figures. Now he practically holds the key to the nation's capital by bringing professional golf to an area that was devoid of any tournaments when the tour's schedule was first announced.
It's no secret that Congressional's first club president also happened to be a U.S. president, as Herbert Hoover resided in that capacity and fellow commanders in chief William Howard Taft, Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge and Woodrow Wilson acted as founding life members.
Tiger is as distinguished as Barack Obama, as eloquent as Hillary Clinton, as esteemed as Rudy Giuliani. He might straddle the fence on most current issues (then again, what politician doesn't?), but he knows a good cause when he sees one, offering complimentary tickets to men and women serving in the military, as well as a variety of other ways of giving back to the troops throughout the week.
"Even though my dad was retired, I basically grew up on a military base," he says. "And just understanding the commitment that it takes each and every day for the servicemen and women, what they do for us, I just think that it was something that would have been and should be honored, and that's why we're doing it. What they are doing right now for us, and for us back home, it's just a way to say thank you."
On Wednesday, Woods will play three holes of the pro-am with former President George H.W. Bush, all of which begs the question: Does he have any political aspirations?
"Hell no. Nooooo. No. Uh-uh," he said at a May news conference for the tournament.
But that doesn't mean some other tour players wouldn't like to see it.
"He's got my vote," Heath Slocum said. "I'd vote for him," Quigley said. "I'd definitely vote for Tiger," said Will MacKenzie, adding, "He could do a fantastic job as president. As good a job as any of the other guys, for sure."
Here he is: Tiger Woods, champion golfer. Ah, yes. Didn't think we'd forget this part, did you? All the other accolades and accomplishments never would have been hatched if not for Woods' proficiency on the course.
The numbers are already legendary and still growing: He owns 57 PGA Tour victories and 12 major titles, and don't expect fatherhood or any other added responsibilities to deter from his ultimate goal of winning each time he competes. Woods' warm smile and genuine awe when cooing about Sam Alexis was readily replaced Tuesday by that familiar cold, steely glare whenever the subject turned to golf.
Asked for his expectations at Congressional, Woods wrinkles his nose, hardly understanding the question. "Expectation?" he repeats. "Same. That hasn't changed." As he often says, the only thing that matters is the "W"; this week certainly isn't any different.
If anything, Woods wants to win even more than usual because the focus is squarely on him. For 38 minutes on Tuesday, he spoke of himself, his tournament, his daughter, his goals. As he gets up to leave, Woods walks with the stride of a man who is confident in his abilities, one who knows he's successful in so many walks of life.
And just like that, he vanishes behind the curtain.
There he goes: Tiger Woods, host with the most.
Jason Sobel is ESPN.com's golf editor. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com.
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