Tournament host Tiger Woods, unable to play because of an elbow injury, applauds at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda as the cermonial opening tee shots were hit during opening ceremonies for the AT&T National. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

Tiger Woods is in something of an awkward position at this week’s AT&T National, which he hosts at Congressional Country Club. He spoke briefly at the tournament’s opening ceremonies, which help honor the military. He ushered around two students from one of the two Tiger Woods Learning Center campuses in the District. He shook hands and signed autographs.

And that about does it for his official duties between now and Sunday night, when he’ll present the trophy to the winner.

Woods is sitting out his own event with a strained left elbow, and by what he said Wednesday, that sounded like the prudent decision, because he doesn’t know if he’ll be fully recovered by the start of the British Open July 18.

Woods originally suffered the injury in May at the Players Championship, struggled to a tie for 65th at the Memorial — where the injury bothered him, though he didn’t show it — and then winced several times when hitting shots from the rough at the U.S. Open earlier this month. He has not picked up a club since completing the final round at Merion June 16.

“I pushed it pretty good at the Open to play, and played through it,” Woods said. “Made it worse by hitting the ball out of the rough, and eventually got to the point where I wasn’t able to play here.”

So the field is left without its host, its defending champion — Woods also won here in 2009 — and its biggest star, at least between the ropes. His absence from competition isn’t lost on the rest of the players.

“I think he’s such a presence,” said Bo Van Pelt, the runner-up to Woods a year ago. “Whenever he’s in an event, you know when he’s there, obviously just from the crowd size and the roars that you hear when he’s playing well. So it makes it fun.”

Course length presents challenge

Congressional’s Blue Course is laid out at 7,569 yards — just short of the 7,574 listed on the scorecard for the 2011 U.S. Open here. The layout can change from day-to-day with different placements of pins and tees, but that puts Congressional, playing to a par of 71, among the longest tracks on tour — the Puerto Rico tournament plays to the same yardage, and Torrey Pines is listed one yard shorter. Length is one factor as to why it plays so tough .

“I would like it to be one of the more difficult PGA Tour events, there’s no doubt,” Woods said. “This golf course lends itself to that. It has a history of that. And I think that’s how we should play it. Don’t make it where it’s something where even par or over par is going to win the tournament, but allow these guys if they play well, and they shoot an under par score, they’re going to move up.”

The players who show up here generally embrace that approach. The winning scores in the four AT&T Nationals contested at Congressional have been between 8- and 13-under par.

“Takes out the riff-raff,” Jason Day offered. . . .

Ken Duke, the 44-year-old from Arkansas who took his first PGA Tour victory Sunday, came to Washington with his parents, wife and two kids and became tourists before he got to Congressional. During a tour of the Capitol Building, a friend of Duke’s got Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) to recognize Duke.

“That was a pretty good twist,” Duke said, “and unexpected, obviously.”