By Leonard Shapiro
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 28, 2007
SOUTHERN PINES, N.C., June 27 -- Phil Mickelson said Wednesday that he will play in the inaugural AT&T National golf tournament that starts July 5 at Congressional Country Club, where he will be joined by host Tiger Woods, who on Thursday will formally commit to play in his new signature PGA Tour event.
A tournament source said that Woods will make his decision official one day before the tour's formal commitment deadline of 5 p.m. Friday. The addition of Woods and Mickelson, the top two players in the world rankings, respectively, gives the tournament five of the top six players in the world, including No. 3 Jim Furyk of the United States, No. 4 Adam Scott of Australia and No. 6 Vijay Singh of Fiji.
"We think the field is outstanding given the fact we've only been open for business for 110 days," tournament director Greg McLaughlin said. "It's a testament to Congressional and the kind of course it is and the respect players have for Tiger. We're elated."
Mickelson announced his decision Wednesday on his Web site, writing that his injured left wrist has healed sufficiently to allow him to play.
"I saw one report that had me telling Tiger I wouldn't play," Mickelson wrote. "That never happened. I just never committed until this week. It's always a great challenge to play in events against him, and Congressional is a top-flight course."
Woods has not played in a regular tour event in Washington since turning professional in 1996, though he finished tied for 19th in the 1997 U.S. Open at Congressional and participated in two Presidents Cup competitions at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Club in Gainesville in 2000 and 2005. Mickelson last played in Washington in 2005, at the Booz Allen Classic.
"As far as Congressional is concerned, Tiger Woods is the tournament," Congressional President Stuart Long said Wednesday before Mickelson's announcement. "All our estimates are cut in half if he doesn't play -- the crowd, the sales, the TV, the interest. It's 50 percent when he doesn't play and 100 percent when he does play. We're thrilled to have him."
Woods has said from the day the $6 million tournament was added to the tour schedule in February that he had every intention of playing in the event, which will be run by his Tiger Woods Foundation. The only possible impediment to his participation, he said, would be the birth of his first child.
His wife, Elin Nordegren, delivered a baby girl, Sam Alexis Woods, on June 18, the day after Woods finished second at the U.S. Open at Oakmont near Pittsburgh. He withdrew from this week's Buick Open in Grand Blanc, Mich., but McLaughlin said last week he expected Woods to play in his own Washington event.
The Tiger Woods Foundation will be the chief charitable beneficiary for the new Washington tournament. Woods was not available to comment.
The tournament will be played at Congressional again in 2008, and Woods has said he would like it to remain there. Long said he expected to meet with Woods and McLaughlin at Congressional during the week of the tournament to discuss holding future events, but said any decision would have to be made by the membership. The two-year commitment to host the tournament was approved by 92 percent of the voting members.
Long said with the U.S. Amateur scheduled at Congressional in 2009 and the U.S. Open coming in 2011, he was not certain if the club could handle another tournament in those two years.
If Congressional is not available those years, the PGA Tour has said it will look at alternative sites, including the TPC at Avenel, soon to undergo a $20 million course and clubhouse renovation, and Robert Trent Jones Golf Club.
Long also indicated the club would prefer to have the tournament in May beyond 2008 "so that our members can have the place in June, July and August," peak playing months. Still, the Blue course will be closed for only about a week for the tournament, and Congressional has reciprocal arrangements with nearby clubs.