Tiger Woods is driving the bus. However short of breath this news may leave you, it has taken awhile for the PGA Tour to figure out how the world's most financially successful athlete can optimize the tour's own commercial resources. The proposition comes with a catch: Woods is ultrasensitive to being pushed, pulled, cajoled, forced, improperly licensed or taken advantage of. Twelve major titles won't buy you unlimited power, but they will endow a man with tons of control.
The relationship has endured some rocky moments over the years -- Tiger hammered the tour on a variety of player-rights issues in an exclusive interview with Golf World at the end of the 2000 season, and his absence at key events will always trigger alarms among the guys in striped ties. To say the '00 outburst led to stronger dialogue between Camp Ponte Vedra and Woods would be an educated guess. Commissioner Tim Finchem frequently calls Tiger's agent, Mark Steinberg, for advice and feedback, conversations that might have started as courtesy calls but clearly aren't anymore.
As the tour finalizes plans to spend Fourth of July weekend in D.C. -- an announcement regarding a venue (most likely Congressional CC) and title sponsor (AT&T) is expected this week -- what looked like a potential crisis last month appears to have smiley faces drawn all over it. Forced to move quickly after the International's demise created open dates that couldn't go unfilled, the tour turned to the Woods camp with the same mind-set as that of an NBA coach who diagrams a play for his best offensive player in the final seconds of a one-point game.
This deal took no time at all because the core of it isn't all that complicated. Charity proceeds from the new event will go to the Tiger Woods Foundation. In exchange our nation's capital gets Tiger Woods. The rest of us get one more reason to give a hoot. That's the plan, anyway. "Tiger has a history of [playing in] events where the foundation is involved," Steinberg says. "We avoid commitments, but you've got to go on history and precedent."
In other words he'll be there unless the birth of his first child interferes, which is a distinct possibility since Mrs. Woods is due sometime between the U.S. and British Opens. Even without Tiger around to christen the tour's D.C. revival, the primary mission is accomplished, the framework in place for a premium nonmajor in a market that provided two decades of strong support for a weak event before the FedEx Cup turned it to sawdust.
On paper the Booz Allen Classic was a casualty of the new competitive format. In reality it turned into a loser way back in 1987, when former commish Deane Beman, who grew up in the Washington area, insisted on moving the old Kemper Open from Congressional to the TPC Avenel, a course he codesigned. Beman did a lot of good things during his tenure, but his architectural handiwork and decision to relocate the Kemper fail to crack his top 100. In effect the local boy deserves at least a little bit of the credit for sticking a fork in his hometown event.
All's well that ends poorly, then starts anew at the big club down the street. Congressional is still the best course in town, which is why it was selected to host the 2009 U.S. Amateur and 2011 U.S. Open, meaning it can't commit to the tour past next summer. This has led to some intriguing scenarios. Might Woods take on the role of redesigning a nearby military course such as one of those at Andrews Air Force Base? Could he possibly be interested in becoming a consultant in the $20 million renovation project at Avenel?
Washington's return also has led to speculation that Tiger will open an East Coast learning center similar to the one he built in Southern California. First, let's play a golf tournament. "Obviously it's a smart decision for the PGA Tour to [aid] that charity," says Jim Furyk. "If Congressional is in the mix, it will get my attention, no doubt."
As Steinberg points out, you've got to go on history and precedent. In 2003 the tour added an event near Boston over Labor Day weekend and earmarked the charity revenue to Tiger's foundation. Despite the travel-heavy holiday and a venue (TPC Boston) that was unloved from the outset, the Deutsche Bank Championship has been a runaway success. A lot of tournaments draw big crowds. This one has atmosphere, and in '03, the Deutsche Bank established a tour record for the largest charity donation by a first-year event.
Woods' role as unofficial host had more than a little to do with the Deutsche Bank becoming the second stop in the FedEx Cup playoff series. Some players have questioned the motives behind the postseason presence of a four-year-old tournament held on a mediocre course, but most see it for what it is: good business. After years of stumbling over the bureaucracy of its democracy, the tour seems to have discovered that healthy favoritism can lead to shameless growth. Tiger may drive the bus into the right rough, but make no mistake. He's got his hands on the wheel.
John Hawkins is a senior writer for Golf World magazine