THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. — Tiger Woods started his World Challenge in 1999 as a chance to bring together top players from around the world for a tournament that amounted to a holiday exhibition to raise money for his foundation.
It offered big money, even for the guy who finished last. And though it now awards world ranking points, it does not count as an official win on any tour.
But it’s serious business to Woods.
When the tournament lost its title sponsor last year, and a deal with a major company unexpectedly fell through at the last minute in early September, Woods spent what is thought to be about $4 million of his own money to join presenting sponsor Northwestern Mutual in covering the operating costs.
“We’re going to be doing everything we can to keep the tournament going and keep all our programs going,” Woods said.
He described the World Challenge earlier in the week as his “showcase event” that he created with his late father, Earl Woods. And while the trophy and a $1 million check will be presented Sunday at Sherwood Country Club, one of the more compelling moments came before the tournament even started.
Standing at a podium Wednesday night at a private pro-am dinner was Edgar Perez, a senior at Savanna High School, located in the same impoverished Orange County neighborhood where the 14-time major champion built his first Tiger Woods Learning Center.
Wearing a black suit and a red tie, standing tall before an audience of VIPs, Perez told of his family’s business going bankrupt during the economic downturn when he was in the seventh grade. He described himself as “frail, socially awkward and apathetic.” Upon hearing a presentation from a TWLC alum, the boy turned in his application and became a regular at the state-of-the-art center.
As a senior, he is the student body president and the school’s highest achiever. He is likely to become an Earl Woods Scholar to pay for his education at Reed College in Portland, Ore. He would be the first person in his family to go to college, not unusual for the previous 77 students in the program.
Only at the end did his voice crack when he introduced Woods, who embraced him and said to the audience, “Wow.”
“This is why we’re here, people like Edgar,” Woods said.
The message gets lost in another tournament, where the rich get richer. The 18-man field combined for about $65 million in PGA Tour earnings alone this year, and last place pays $120,000. Woods is not naturally gifted as a public speaker, and it’s easy to tune him out when he talks about the foundation or the learning centers. Along with the original TWLC in Orange County, there are two campuses in the Washington, D.C., area, one in Philadelphia and another in south Florida.
The foundation says 100,000 kids have attended TWLC programs, and that 73 percent of TWLC students have a higher GPA that their school district’s average.
Only last year was it revealed that Woods also donates his prize money from every tournament that benefits the foundation — the AT&T National, which began in 2007, and the Deutsche Bank Championship, which began in 2003 and became a FedEx Cup playoff event in 2007. That total now stands at $14.2 million.
How much longer the World Challenge continues is uncertain.