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Underwhelming Field Will Hurt Attendance at AT&T National

by David Elfin
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Adam Scott is the main attraction in an underwhelming field at this week's AT&T National, held at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda. (Photo credit: Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)

Adam Scott is the main attraction in an underwhelming field at this week’s AT&T National, held at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda. (Photo credit: Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)

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With tournament host and defending champion Tiger Woods not playing here for the third time in the last six years, reigning U.S. Open king Justin Rose having withdrawn on Monday, and with a decent chance of thunderstorms tomorrow, Friday and Saturday, don’t be surprised if attendance at the AT&T National is as underwhelming as the field.

And why not? Our tournament, which gets going tomorrow at Bethesda’s venerable Congressional Country Club, got the shaft yet again this year.

When Rose, who won the Open and its $1.44 million top prize 10 days ago, pulled out, citing exhaustion (give us a break) there went the lure of having the winners of the year’s first two majors in the field for the first time in the event’s history. Australian Adam Scott is playing, but the 32-year-old Masters champion has nowhere near Woods’ charisma or drawing power. Nor does Brandt Snedeker, the only American who’s ranked in the top 20 in the world who’s in the 132-man field.

It has been 10 years since Jim Furyk, who’s playing Congressional today, won his major and nine years since Vijay Singh won the last of his trio. Stewart Cink, Lucas Glover and Angel Cabrera will also be teeing off and putting in Bethesda, but each won his last major in 2009.

All told, just two of the winners of the Masters, U.S. Open or British Open over the last four years is playing the AT&T National while the past eight PGA champions are absent. The tournament promoters can spin the presence of Scott any way they want, but there’s no arguing that the field isn’t that sexy when he’s the only top 15 player on hand besides the non-descript Snedeker, who has won all of four tournaments over the last six seasons.

“The last three weeks have been extremely demanding both mentally and physically,” Rose whined in his statement of withdrawl.

“I would like to extend my regrets to AT&T, our sponsors and the fans in the Washington, D.C., area,” Woods said in a statement announcing his withdrawl last Wednesday, three days after his poor finish in the U.S. Open. “The AT&T National means a lot to me and my foundation. It’s especially difficult not defending at my own tournament. It’s going to be a great event, and I look forward to being there to provide my support.”

What’s especially galling about Woods’ absence this week is that he was able to play through the pain in his left elbow during the U.S. Open and he plans to play the British Open that begins on July 18.

At least in 2008 when Woods couldn’t play in the tournament that is run by and benefits his foundation, it was because of a broken leg that sidelined him for the rest of that PGA season. In 2011, Washington golf fans didn’t get to see Woods –- not because he missed the AT&T National, which was held in suburban Philadelphia –- but because his injured Achilles prevented him from playing in the U.S. Open at Congressional. That was the first major contested in our area in 14 years and the sport’s biggest name of this generation didn’t compete.

Of course, that was a major and the likes of Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia and Rory McIlroy gave spice to the tournament which the latter won by a whopping eight strokes and which drew nearly 230,000 fans.

Last year’s derecho cost the AT&T National a day’s worth of spectators, but a tournament-record 48,611 came out on Sunday to watch Woods prevail over Bo Van Pelt. That was nearly 19,000 more than the final day attendance in 2008, the last time that Woods didn’t play when the event was played at Congressional.

As tournament director Greg McLaughlin said, “You probably lose the casual sports fan [who] might not be a real golf fan.”

Barring some heartwarming underdog story developing in the first couple of rounds, you can probably count on losing them, Greg.

David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last three Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since March 2011. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidElfin.

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