The arrival of any PGA tournament in Washington would be good news. To go from having nothing whatsoever here to apparently having Tiger Woods on an annual basis would be stunning, a scenario that was rather unimaginable when the nation's capital was unceremoniously dumped from the tour schedule.
It's a coup, really, because Tiger Woods is the biggest individual draw in sports by a million miles. There are people who are turned off by Barry Bonds, people who are still wary of Kobe Bryant, people who don't know what Roger Federer looks like or if David Beckham can live up to the hype. Sure, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is a megastar, but racing has so many characters who together sustain the interest.
Tiger Woods and his appeal are singular. After Ali there was Michael Jordan and now there is Tiger, the closest thing there is to a sure thing in sports. You know how you can tell when somebody is officially an icon? When there's shock when he loses. Can Peyton Manning say that? Um, no. You've got a nice golf tournament when Phil and Sergio and Vijay are there. But you've got an international event if Tiger is there. Apparently, Washington now has a legitimate golf event.
It all changed in an instant yesterday, when PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem announced the tour had reached a long-term agreement with the Tiger Woods Foundation to be the host organization and beneficiary of a tournament here the first week of July. It's a coup, also, because Tiger doesn't play all that often, which makes every one of his appearances an even bigger event. The last four years, for example, Phil Mickelson has played in 23, 22, 21 and 19 tournaments. Chris DiMarco has played in 27, 27, 24 and 26 tournaments. Fred Funk has played in 33, 29, 30 and 29 tournaments. Tiger, meanwhile, has played in 18, 19, 21 and 15, with last year's schedule being abbreviated by his father's death.
The four majors have forever had a cachet. Beyond that, the tournaments Tiger plays are mini-majors. If you don't have him, chances are you're teetering. Only the FBR Open in Scottsdale, Ariz., seems to care not a bit whether Tiger shows up or not. Remember, the reason there was an open week to recruit a tournament here is that the International wasn't a Tiger stop. So, it was tough to remain viable.
Think that's an exaggeration? On Jan. 28, when Tiger won at Torrey Pines, the national broadcast attracted a rating of 5.2. Last Sunday, when Tiger had been eliminated earlier in the week from the Accenture Match Play Championship, the broadcast drew a rating of 2.1. The week before that, 11 of the top 13 players competed at the Nissan Open, and the final round leader board included Mickelson, Ernie Els, Padraig Harrington, Jim Furyk and Sergio Garcia. It drew a rating of 3.4. The tournament at the great Pebble Beach, won by Mickelson but skipped by Tiger, drew 2.97. The difference is staggering.
People who don't care deeply about golf want to watch Tiger Woods, the way people who didn't necessarily care about pro basketball wanted to watch Jordan.
If golf patrons here have to wait a year before actually seeing him in person, so be it. His longtime agent, Mark Steinberg, said yesterday: "This year, it may be something of a wild card because his wife is expecting at around that time, so everything is pretty much up in the air. But I can tell you he's very excited about the Washington event."
So, you wouldn't want Tiger Woods in 2008? Is he going to be passe by then? Would you tell him, "Forget it pal . . . take you and your tournament to Pittsburgh!" If somebody told you Tiger's definitely skipping this year's tournament but he'll play annually for the next 10, you wouldn't take that deal?
Chances are that Tiger Woods, now 31, will be at the top of his game longer than LeBron James or Alex Ovechkin will be at theirs. If he plays in seven of the next 10 tournaments it's a good deal for this market, considering he hasn't played here yet, beyond the U.S. Open at Congressional and the Presidents Cup at Robert Trent Jones.
Whoever came up with the idea should receive quite an ovation. It didn't make a bit of sense that the PGA wouldn't have a tour stop in a place as wealthy and as willing to spend money on golf as metropolitan Washington. We're not even particularly discerning when it comes to what we'll pay to view when it comes to professional sports. There are enough people here with sporting passions and fat wallets to pay for virtually anything, even professional teams that haven't contended for anything in 10 or more years.
And even if Tiger didn't initiate the deal, he should be applauded for embracing the idea of coming here, where he'll find galleries more diverse than any place on tour and where he can tap into a market that is likely to respond to him differently than any other. With Tiger playing in fewer and fewer tournaments, any market that has a long-term deal with his charity (and therefore, we assume, him) figures to have something special.
Regardless of the sponsor and/or the golf course, one would imagine if Woods is truly excited about this, the tour and its top players will be, too. Tiger's presence might be the only reason people want to come to D.C. during the usually hellish first week of July. The flip side of that is, it's hard to imagine a situation in which this market wouldn't support a PGA tournament that year in and year out would virtually guarantee a visit from the biggest star in sports. In a market accustomed to most of its sports news being disappointing, Finchem's announcement yesterday is like pennies from heaven.