Will he play or won’t he?
That was the chief question on everyone’s mind as Tiger Woods took the podium on Tuesday at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda to discuss the inaugural AT&T National PGA Tour event, which will be held at the club from July 2-8. However, the tournament’s host was committedly non-committal.
‘‘My intention is to play,” Tiger Woods said. ‘‘But my wife [Elin, who is pregnant with their first child] may have something to say about that. I love this golf course, and I want to play here, but everybody understands our No. 1 priority is our child.”
While the question of Tiger Woods’ attendance is up in the air, several other top-flight players did confirm that they will be among the 120-player, invitation-only field. The world’s No. 3 player, Jim Furyk, intends on playing, as does 2004 Booz Allen Classic champion Adam Scott, who finished second in that now-defunct tournament in 2005, when it was held at Congressional. In addition, Americans Davis Love III and Charles Howell, Australian Stuart Appleby, Northern Ireland’s Darren Clarke and England’s Justin Rose have all agreed to play. With the tournament a mere five weeks away, however, Tiger Woods has had trouble getting some of the most recognizable names in golf to commit to playing. Of Tiger Woods’ main rivals, Phil Mickelson will not play, neither will Ernie Els, who won the last U.S. Open held at Congressional, in 1997.
‘‘Ernie is not going to play, and I do not think Phil is going to play,” Tiger Woods said. ‘‘It has been a little difficult, especially with the European players, because they are already in Europe, getting ready for the British Open, and they are committed to the European Tour.”
However, one part of the tournament Tiger Woods does have control of is the course layout. For the AT&T National, Congressional’s famed Blue Course will revert to the tricky and long par-70 format that it took during the 1997 U.S. Open. In addition, the new par-3 10th hole — formerly the 18th hole in the old layout — will make its tournament debut. That change allows what used to be the 17th hole on the course, to be the finishing hole. It is a change that Tiger Woods is looking forward to.
‘‘All the other players can blame me for the par-70 [format],” Tiger Woods said. ‘‘I think we should play the course like we did at the U.S. Open. It is a tremendous test, and above all, it will be difficult but fair. A lot of people have lost the U.S. Open on the [formerly 17th hole]. You don’t realize how much the wind swirls down there on the green, and with the clubhouse in the background, it is a great finishing hole.”
Congressional Country Club’s president, Stuart Long, said that the membership voted to host the AT&T National by an overwhelming margin, as close to 91 percent of members that cast ballots agreed to hold the event for the next two years. However, where the tournament will be held after 2008 — Congressional is already slated to host the 2009 U.S. Amateur and the 2011 U.S. Open — remains in question. Even with renovations on the course and clubhouse scheduled to be completed on the PGA Tour owned TPC Avenel in Potomac by 2008, Tiger Woods made his preference known from the podium, with Long beside him.
‘‘My first choice is to play this tournament at Congressional, and my second choice is to play this tournament at Congressional,” Tiger Woods said. ‘‘A renovated Avenel is an option, but Congressional is the home of Major tournaments.”
That said, will Tiger Woods be available to tee off on the Thursday of the inaugural tournament that he is hosting? Or, what will he do, if he has a one-stroke lead on the 18th green in the final round, when the call comes that he’s about to become a father?
‘‘We’ll have to play fast then, won’t we?” Tiger Woods asked, cracking a smile. ‘‘A three [birdie] will have to do.”