July 4, 2007

Tour Insider: Owning the Town

Tiger opens up, and the nation's capital feels the impact

Tiger Woods is looking forward to life as a father.

Tiger Woods is looking forward to life as a father.

BETHESDA, Md. -- Tiger Woods is an extremely guarded person. In private matters such as the birth of his child, he was not going to share what was going on back home while he tried to wrestle the monster at Oakmont and win the U.S. Open. From Thursday on that week in Western Pennsylvania, Tiger knew that his wife Elin was in an Orlando hospital. Typical of Tiger, he never told anybody. Also typical of Tiger, he finished second in the U.S. Open knowing "E" was having late complications with her pregnancy.

"It was not easy," Woods admitted earlier this week. "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 how he focused through all this, Woods repeated three times, "You just do."

Woods finishing one shot back at Oakmont with Elin hospitalized is just another chapter in this book, but Woods would not answer a question about what would have happened had he birdied 17 or 18, setting up an 18-hole playoff for the title with Angel Cabrera. There are some things we'll just never know until we read the autobiography.

"Well, that didn't happen, so it would be all hypothetical," he said. "I'm not going down that road."

Woods revealed all this personal drama on Tuesday, during a packed news conference usually reserved for Presidents and Heads of State. Everybody's different: Phil Mickelson let us know he had a cell phone in his golf bag at Pinehurst, and was ready to fly home to wife Amy when she was due the week of the 1999 U.S. Open. Tiger kept it secret until it was over, released the baby pictures on his Web site, but when asked if his emotional responses were different than he expected, Woods opened up.

"It's something that Elin and I talked about on our first night," Woods said. "How can you love something so much that didn't exist the day before? We never experienced anything like that. Certainly it's one that was different and one that was special and one that we want to experience again."

In the Washington Post on Wednesday, Sally Jenkins began her column by writing, "It was nice to finally meet Tiger Woods. Maybe it was sleep deprivation or lingering euphoria from the birth of his first child, or the exposing act of putting his name on a golf tournament that made him so forthcoming. Usually Woods in conversation is an exercise in verbal gridlock. But what he gave up yesterday, while not exactly a session on Oprah's couch, was, for him, almost confessional."

It was cathartic, in many ways. The last time he played Washington, Woods was 21, coming off his Masters victory, a man-child in the game of golf, a phenomenon not yet equipped for the responsibility bestowed upon him. His opening round of the 1997 U.S. Open concluded with a bad finish, and he blew off the obligatory trip to the press tent, issuing a few quotes to a pool reporter from the front seat of his car. Father Earl spoke to him about his actions and the next day Tiger apologized. From that day forward, Woods has mostly done the right thing as it relates to golf, his public image and giving back through the establishment of his foundation. All of that is rolled up into one feel good story at Congressional.

Woods is now 31, a man and a father not only to baby Sam Alexis, but in many ways to the game's future. The road he has taken to get here, to Congressional CC for the first playing of the AT&T National, was something that he was more than willing to discuss, and even the tough Washington press corps backed off Tuesday and let Woods go where he wanted to go: To the timeline of this event, and what it means on many levels to this city. Washington is extremely skeptical by nature, always questioning the motivation. But in Thursday morning's Post, the headline above Thomas Boswell's column said quite simply: An Experience Not to Be Missed.

Tiger Woods has D.C. in the palm of his paw, turning on this city more than any presidential candidate, more than any Washington Redskin, National, Capital, more than Michael Jordan when tried to resurrect the Wizards. It's like he's become the adopted sport star, in a city looking for one, but this vibe extends well beyond the realm of sports. Even on Capital Hill, Tiger Woods has done more for breaking down the boundaries of bi-partisan politics than the rhetorical of any presidential candidate. Republican or Democrat. And it's more than just hitting a 2-iron about 30 feet in the air on a line to the 280-yard mark that has Washington buzzing by his presence. It's the way he's gone about building this tournament into the outreach program for his foundation, and how tournament director Greg McLaughlin has been able to turn this event around in 116 days.

There's also the thanking of our troops, which Woods did by opening the doors of Congressional to servicemen and servicewomen and having them part of Wednesday's ceremony during the Earl Woods Memorial Pro-Am. Besides making him feel "safe," the military presence at Congressional is a tribute to the 12 years Earl spent in the Green Berets, and to the sacrifice being made today in the Middle East.

"Well, if I didn't have that experience of growing up with a military father, I wouldn't think that I quite would understand the commitment and the things they have been doing and especially what's been going on overseas," Woods said. "I think it's just a small way of saying thank you."

President George H.S. Bush was on the grounds Wednesday, and it was hard to tell who was happier: Forty One, Woods, McLaughlin or Tim Finchem, the PGA Tour commissioner who worked in the Carter White House and who was feeling heat on many levels to bring golf back to Washington. After losing the Booz Allen, Washington needed a tour event, and it found one when Jack Vickers couldn't get a sponsor for his International tournament in Denver and the Woods Foundation swooped in with an answer -- and a plan.

When Finchem announced during a ceremony on the first tee that golf would be returning to Washington, the roar could be heard down by the 18th green, where Mickelson -- a late entry because of his wrist injury -- was asked what it would mean to win Tiger's tournament.

"Well, if he passed out the trophy," Mickelson said, "it would be pretty cool."

Of course, Tiger wouldn't mind giving the trophy to himself. He may have hated to leave Sam and E at home, but he's already been given a suggestion on what to give the baby for her three-week birthday.

Bring home another W.

As Tiger revealed with a smile, Sam's already had a club in her hands.