By Pete Pappas
GolfWRX Staff Writer
The AT&T National returns to Congressional Country Club this week after a two-year hiatus from our nation’s capital.
Congressional’s Blue Course will set up with the same par and yardage as it did for the 2011 U.S. Open, but don’t expect the same historic performance from this year’s AT&T National champion as we saw from Rory McIlroy last year when he won his first major championship and put his stamp on 12 U.S. Open records in the process.
In 2011, Congressional received a bailout from Mother Nature. Thunderstorms softened the course so much that protecting par was hopeless. This year the Blue Course at Congressional for the AT&T National will be firm, fast, and ironically more worthy of hosting a major than it was one year ago.
“It’s in as good a shape as any time I’ve been here,” said Congressional Golf Director John Lyberger.
With Congressional hosting the U.S. Open last year, the AT&T National was played at Aronimink Golf Club. Defending champion Nick Watney prevailed with a two-stroke victory over 2011 PLAYERS champion K.J. Choi on the strength of a bogey-free four-under 66 in the final round, earning his first AT&T National title and second victory of the 2011 season.
Watney will be grouped Thursday and Friday with Choi – who won here in 2007, and tournament host Tiger Woods – who won in 2009.
“From what I hear it’s fast,” said Woods speaking of the course conditions. “I like it quick because it keeps a premium on shaping shots and more than anything keeping it under the hole.”
Woods is ranked No. 4 in the world and is one of three multiple winners on Tour this season with victories at the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard and The Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide Insurance.
Watney and Choi meanwhile are still looking for their first wins of the season — though they both have top-10 finishes to their credit.
Watney, Woods, and two-time winner this season Hunter Mahan highlight an AT&T National field that has its share of big names – including 11 major winners and nine 2012 tournament winners.
Teeing it up with Watney, Woods, and Mahan will be former U.S. Open champion Jim Furyk – who appeared poised to win his second U.S. Open title two weeks ago until the normally consistent 42 year-old imploded over the final few holes.
Furyk finished T-4 at the U.S. Open and also has a fourth-place finish at Colonial as well as an impressive T-13 placing at The Memorial.
Also in the field this week and a welcome sight back in the winner’s circle is Dustin Johnson. Johnson returned from a two-month layoff to win the FedEx St. Jude Classic earlier this month in dramatic style.
Relying on clutch putting down the stretch Johnson fired a final-round four-under 66 to hold off John Merrick by one-shot.
Johnson’s recent success at Congressional bodes well for him heading into the AT&T National. He finished T-23 at Congressional at the 2011 U.S. Open.
And maybe most importantly Johnson doesn’t appear to be feeling the effects of the serious back injury that forced him to withdraw from the Masters earlier in April — an injury that left him without the ability to practice for nearly six weeks.
While it’s true the Congressional field includes some big names it’s also true it doesn’t include “a lot” of big names. And overall the tournament is considered as having one of the thinnest fields of the Tour season.
First because the AT&T National is given invitational status only 120 players tee it up rather than the normal 156 players. Second, only two players in the World Golf Rankings Top-10 will be in the field this week – Woods and Mahan. Luke Donald, Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood (ranked Nos. 1-3 in the Official World Golf Rankings) have all chosen to remain overseas at home in Europe. And notable American players including U.S. Open champion and World No. 5 Webb Simpson, Masters champion and World No. 6 Bubba Watson, World No. 7 Matt Kuchar, and PGA Tour Player of the Month for May Rickie Fowler have also decided to skip this week on the Tour schedule.
Combine fewer big names with a larger number of relative unknowns in an overall smaller field – and the first impression might be something along the lines of “snoozer.” But on closer inspection there are many reasons to tune in this week. Not the least of which include the exciting and possibly historic opportunities this presents for the newest young guns on Tour.
Teen sensation 17 year-old Beau Hossler at one point led the U.S. Open and finished T-29 showing remarkable poise and shot-making ability every nerve-wrecking step of the way. University of Texas amateur 18-year-old Jordan Spieth took low-am honors at the U.S. Open with his T-21 finish and continues to do things earning him greater praise and respect both for his game and for how he handles himself on the course. And how about 20 year-old Patrick Cantlay who turned pro just last week at the Travelers Championship.
Then of course the significance of a potential win for Tiger which would make him the first three-time winner on Tour this season could just about mark the beginning of a new chapter of “Tigermania” all over again.
The Greek Syndicate – Plugged In Predictions
Just one prediction this week and it’s because I’m going “all-in.” Tiger.
I’ve been pretty critical of him all season. And have given my reasons why I believe he’ll never “be back” or be the same “science fiction” type of player he was just a few years ago. Before the U.S. Open started I said he’s still the only player on Tour who can make the kind of shots like the chip he made at The Memorial. But he’s also the same player who can go from delightful to frightful from one round to the next.
But if just for this week, considering his familiarity with the course, particular statistics, the field, and his career-winning percentage, it’s his time, and I think he puts together four rounds good enough to win – 10-under. Woods’ career win percentage hovers around 25 percent. And this year in non-majors? You guessed it – 25 percent (two wins in eight tries).
Woods is second in ball striking, second in total driving, ninth in greens-in-regulation, 10th in putting between five and 10 feet, and 26th in strokes gained putting. If he’s going to fail or hurt himself anywhere this week it will be on putts from 10 to 15 feet, where he’s ranked an abysmal 155th on Tour.
Johnson Wagner, Ben Crane, Ryan Palmer
Dustin Johnson, Hunter Mahan, Davis Love III
Marc Leishman, Ben Curtis, Adam Scott
Kyle Reifers, Billy Hurley III, Beau Hossler
Tiger Woods, Nick Watney, K.J. Choi
Robert Garrigus, Jim Furyk, Jason Day
Bobby Gates, Brian Harman, Jordan Spieth
Notah Begay, K.T. Kim, Patrick Cantlay
Tiger “Sisyphus” Woods
Thinking of Tiger’s performance at Olympic two weeks ago, all season even, and through to this week, it dawned on me – Tiger is the Sisyphus of the PGA Tour.
For those who won’t know the story of Sisyphus — loosely speaking in Greek mythology Sisyphus was condemned to roll an enormous boulder up a hill, only to watch it tumble back down time and time again. And it was Sisyphus’ fate to repeat this action forever because of certain “indiscretions” he committed.
There are conflicting interpretations of what this means for Sisyphus. Some say Sisyphus is happy because his struggle to reach the highest of heights will always fill his heart with joy and ultimately success. Others say Sisyphus’ quest for power and constant defeat personifies the absurdity of human life in that regard.
Which interpretation better applies to Tiger where he resides today as he chases Jack’s record? I’m not sure to be honest. But I think the interpretation that does best apply to Tiger won’t be known until Tiger stops pushing that boulder up the hill. And then most importantly, why he stopped doing so. And I wonder if in the end it won’t even have anything to do with Jack’s record.
Woods and Watney share the tournament record 13-under 267 set by Woods in 2009 and Watney in 2011.
Television Coverage (EST)
Thursday and Friday: Golf Channel 3:00 – 6:00 p.m. EST
Saturday and Sunday: CBS 3:00 – 6:00 p.m. EST
Radio Coverage (EST)
Thursday through Sunday: Sirius XM PGA Tour RADIO 12:00 – 6:00 p.m. EST
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