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Will the Houston Final Four draw Tiger Woods to the Shell Open?

Will the Houston Final Four draw Tiger Woods to the Shell Open?

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The Reliant Stadium Final Four scene will draw more than 76,000 for all three games. Will Tiger Woods be one of them? Courtesy of Reliant Stadium
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Tiger Woods loves major sporting events. And he'll be looking to change his routines in 2011 to get back lifting trophies again.
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Lee Westwood must want Final Four tickets. The world's No. 1-ranked golfer committed to play the Shell Houston Open on Tuesday, several months before he had to make the decision.

This year, the Shell Open is being played the same weekend as the 2011 Final Four at Reliant Stadium, which might not be as damaging to the golf tournament as one would first assume.

Especially if college basketball's ultimate event lures golf's No. 1 draw to Houston. Westwood's nice. But catching Tiger by the tail still represents every golf tournament's Moby Dick.

Could the Final Four prompt Tiger Woods to play in the Houston Open for the first time ever? You can bet the question's being asked (and prayed on) by Shell Open officials.

In a press conference at Reliant Stadium Tuesday afternoon (about the same time that Westwood was committing to the Shell), the NCAA's associate director for the Division I Men's Basketball Championship David Worlock explained that the Final Four isn't customarily the big celebrity draw that the Super Bowl is. After all, Final Fours are more of everyman rollicking fan fests — packed with free and low-cost events around the games — rather than the rich man parties of Super Bowl weeks.

Yet, Worlock noted two exceptions: The major musical acts drawn to the Big Dance (the free concert series/block party that now accompanies every Final Four), which have included Taylor Swift, Ludicrous and 3 Doors Down in the last few years; and athletes.

Major pro athletes are drawn to the Final Four. Maybe, even the most famous athlete in the world.

Tiger's a courtside regular at Orlando Magic games and while he hasn't shown quite the same love for college basketball as he has the NBA in the past, it's no stretch to imagine him looking at a chance to attend the Final Four as a nice perk in his Masters prep. After his first winless season in 14 years on the PGA Tour, Tiger already will probably be more open to the idea of breaking up his long-held routines and playing the week before a major (the Houston Shell Open is the tournament immediately preceding  Augusta).

If that happens, suddenly one of the single biggest sports weekends in Houston history zooms right past the 2004 Super Bowl to an undisputed No. 1. That's the power of Tiger. Still.

The Houston Open finds itself in an interesting position, or predicament, depending on your point of view. In theory, with thousands of visitors drawn into the area by the Final Four, looking for something to do, particularly on the non-game days of Thursday, Friday and Sunday, the Shell could draw record attendance. Of course, the Houston Open is out in Humble at a time when attentions are going to be focused downtown around Discovery Green and out in the Reliant area. Final Fours are becoming more and more about the events outside of the arena doors — the Big Dance and Bracket Town (an interactive fan showcase that will fill the George R. Brown Convention Center), official fan restaurants for each team — that happen every day of the run.

"Thousands of people who could care less about basketball are going to be drawn to Houston," Worlock said. "They're going to come for the other activities around the games."

Even if a lot of those people decide to make watching pro golf one of those activities, the Houston Open's media room figures to be a ghost town, with outlets concentrating their resources on the mega event. Unless Tiger comes, of course.

Then, everything changes.  

The Englishman Westwood can have his Final Four tickets. But you can be sure they'll be saving some ducats for another level of global No. 1.