Tiger Woods in 2013
Tiger Woods in 2013 Credit: Omar Rawlings/FLICKR

Think Tiger Woods and his foundation still will have a difficult time attracting a title sponsor for his 11th annual tournament in the Washington area next summer? After his remarkable performance in winning the Tour Championship this past Sunday in Atlanta, think again.

Two weeks ago, The Washington Post reported the tournament’s contract to stage the event at Congressional Country Club in 2020 had been terminated by the PGA Tour because there was no title sponsor.

That led to speculation that the event could possibly move elsewhere, perhaps Detroit. Never mind that Woods agent, Mark Steinberg and foundation CEO Rick Singer said they were pursuing new sponsor leads every day and fully intend to keep the tournament in Washington, where it will be played at TPC Potomac at Avenel in 2019.

That’s exactly as it should be. And if the higher-ups at the PGA Tour have any sense, they’ve already called Congressional to talk about a new deal for 2020.

Woods’ tournament belongs here. His foundation has already made a mark in the Nation’s Capital, funding several educational programs for D.C. inner city youth and contributing to local junior golf programs. Woods grew up in a military family, and he’s made a major effort to honor and recognize service members past and present at an event that’s contested about a dozen miles from the Pentagon.

The D.C. area has always fully supported his event, in huge numbers, particularly when a healthy Woods has been in the field. And his presence also has been instrumental in drawing many of the top names in the game to Washington, particularly at the challenging Congressional venue, the site of countless majors.

Woods’ play at the Tour Championship in Atlanta capped one of the more improbable sports comeback stories of this or any other generation. Just ask the local golf pros.

“A year ago he was learning to walk again, this time with a fused spine,” says Mark Guttenberg, who teaches at Bull Run Golf Club in Haymarket. “We all wondered and hoped for a comeback, but few believed it would really happen. I was starting to have my doubts, but somewhere in the back of my mind I kept saying,’Yeah, but he’s Tiger Woods.’ Physical attributes aside, no one had better control over the mental game than Tiger Woods in his prime.”

Kris Tschetter, a 24-year veteran of the LPGA Tour who now makes her home in Warrenton and plays regularly in senior women’s events around the country, cites Woods’ mental game as a reason for his comeback.

“Everyone wondered if Tiger would ever get his swing back, and with this win they probably think that question has been answered,” Tschetter, runner-up in the 1996 Women’s U.S. Open, writes in a text. “The truth is he doesn’t have his swing back. Not the swing that won him 79 tournaments, anyway. The real question was, ‘Would he get his mental game back?’ The mental game isn’t just about confidence or focus or refusing to lose. That’s only part of the picture. A great mental game requires confidence, focus, optimism, perseverance, resilience, determination and single mindedness just to name a few. People who are mentally tough don’t think the next shot will be better, they know it will be.

Tiger doesn’t think he’s back. He knows it.”

Anyone who watched his wire-to-write victory at East Lake knows it, too. Still, before anyone starts calling it the greatest comeback in sports history, it’s time to take a deep breath and perhaps even acknowledge it may not be the best in his own sport.

The great Ben Hogan came back to the PGA Tour in 1950 from a head-on collision with a Greyhound bus that nearly killed him. Sixteen months after the accident that left him unable to walk for many months, he won a U.S. Open, and seven of his nine major titles were posted following the near-fatal crash.

Still, Woods’ victory last Sunday stirred countless souls around the world as he prevailed for the first time in over five years. Already some are making him the odds-on favorite to win his sixth Masters title in April at the age of 43. He’s now at 14 majors, four short of Jack Nicklaus’ record 18. East Lake marked his 80th PGA Tour win, two short of Sam Snead’s record 82.      

Says Guttenberg, “Now that he’s won again, the conversations about catching Nicklaus and Snead is already back. I watch golf on TV because it’s in my blood. And when Tiger is on, I plan my day around watching him play.

“No one moves the needle like Tiger. He’s good for the game and his comeback story is great for sports. And as a golf professional, I feel like we and the game just got an early Christmas present.”

So D.C. title sponsors, where are you? It’s clearly time to step up.

Leonard Shapiro retired in 2011 after 41 years as a Washington Post sportswriter, columnist, and editor.

Photo by Omar Rawlings on Flickr, used under the Creative Commons BY-SA 2.0 license.