The Tiger wait is finally over

Tiger Woods will be playing locally for the first time, at Aronimink.
Tiger Woods will be playing locally for the first time, at Aronimink.

Golf fans have been anticipating his appearance since 2000

Posted: June 28, 2010

When the PGA Tour announced that something called the Pennsylvania Classic would be coming to Waynesborough Country Club in 2000 (and again two years later), the first thing anyone and everyone wanted to ask tournament director Joe Rotellini was obvious:

"Is Tiger coming?"

Rotellini laughed about it at the time, at least for public consumption. Yet it really was the only thing local golf fans cared about. And that was when Woods had merely won two of his 14 majors.

Turns out, Tiger never made it here. And he never has. That, of course, will all change this week at Newtown Square's Aronimink Golf Club, which ironically lies just down the road from Waynesborough.

Location, however, is about the only thing those two tournaments will ever have in common.

The AT&T National will tee off on Thursday. Woods is one of the 120 players in the field. The reality is, he could be playing by himself and most of the 30,000 or so folks who figure to be showing up each and every day probably wouldn't mind too much.

He is the show, despite his recent off-course troubles. That's the way it is. And, finally, it's our turn to get as up-close-and-personal with him as possible.

Obviously, up-close-and-personal is a relative term.

Who doesn't want to follow Tiger around the grounds? Well, good luck, especially if you've never been to one of these things before, because it can get more than a little crammed out there. That's what happens when the greatest attraction in any sport is in the house.

His galleries, as always, are going to be multi-deep. Even if somebody else is working on a 61 on some other part of this big-time Donald Ross layout.

The whole world will be watching, including CBS and The Golf Channel. It's the only Tiger sighting between the U.S. Open (where he finished fourth in a major for the second time this season) and the British Open (where he'll be trying to hoist a claret jug at St. Andrews for the third time since 2000). So none of his swings will go unscrutinized.

You could also say that about whatever he does from the moment he arrives at the front gate.

For the first 3 years of this event, when it was held at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md. (where it will return in 2012), Tiger was the official host. But AT&T was one of the sponsors who elected to part ways with him, after his off-course issues became very public late last year. Still, this tourney continues to benefit the children's foundation that bears his name. So he's in town, at last, as the defending champion. And you thought you might have to wait until the U.S. Open came back to Merion in 2013.

Whatever some or even many may now think of him as a person, there's no denying what he represents inside the ropes. Without him it's pretty much just another Honda Classic, even for a community that's been starved for major league golf for way too long. His presence transforms this into a happening.

There is a difference.

"I would much rather have that scenario," said West Chester's Sean O'Hair, the only Philly guy in the field and Tiger's occasional practice-round partner. "That's fun. That's why you play. It has that [electric] feel."

Woods hasn't won since his personal issues took center stage. He was even forced to withdraw once because of neck problems, the week after he missed a cut. There are those who think he'll never be the same. O'Hair's not among them.

"I just think he's got to get in the groove again," he offered. "I know he's got a lot of turmoil [in his life], and to be honest, I think it's amazing he's played as well as he has. I know a lot of people who wouldn't be able to make the cut, going through what he's gone through.

"I think it's just a short period of time he's going to go through. I wouldn't be surprised if he won a major by the end of the year. And he's going to win probably multiple times this year. It's just taking time. He's just trying to get comfortable.

"I know he's hitting it kind of all over the place. His short game is obviously phenomenal. I would not expect him to be playing like this much longer. I know he's working hard. He's very competitive. We all know he's probably got a lot on his mind. It's probably affecting him, for sure . . .

"It'll be nice when he starts playing well [again]. For him, for the Tour, for sponsors and for us. I think Tiger competing is good for everybody."

A decade after missing out, the country's sixth-largest market will get to experience that vibe for itself. Let the commotion begin. *

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