For the fourth straight week, the PGA Tour will head to a less-than-par-72 venue. The AT&T National, Tiger’s event to benefit the Tiger Woods Foundation, returns to the nation’s capital after a two-year hiatus at Aronimink. Congressional Country Club is back to hosting some of the best players in the world.
After the low-scoring debacle at last year’s US Open, Congo (as most of the locals refer to it) appears to be back to the stern test that is was from 2007-2009. The heavy rains -- followed by 100-degree heat -- had the rough almost nonexistent and the greens very receptive at the Open in 2011. This year should be a different story as the weather has been ideal. The rough looks healthy and the greens have their teeth back. This is a classic tree-lined golf course that needs the rough to be penalizing and its greens to be firm and fast in order to stay tough. The weather forecast is calling for temperatures to reach near the triple-digit mark for tournament play… which means the staff will most likely have to soften the course up to keep it from burning out.
Officials will have the ability to move a few of the tees around (thanks to the new tees created by the USGA for last year) so they can stretch this layout to a beefy 7,574 yards. Winning scores have ranged from -9 to -13 in the three times the AT&T has been held here, and forgetting Rory’s -16 Open total last year, -8 was the next best score. That is a fairly tight scoring spread and says that this year a winning score between -8 and -12 is the likely scenario.
This tournament has a history of producing big-name wins: KJ Choi (2007), Anthony Kim (2008), Tiger Woods (2009), Justin Rose (2010 Aronimink), and Nick Watney (2011 Aronimink). But because of the date change (now a week before the traditional Independence Day date) this event now falls in a soft spot in the Tour schedule for a lot of players. Only four of the world’s top 20 are in the field and one could argue that the European Tour event being played this week has just as good a field at the top as does the AT&T. Nonetheless, there are still some quality players teeing it up this week and here are some of the feature pairings:
Tiger Woods, Nick Watney KJ Choi – 12:50 p.m.
Hunter Mahan, Dustin Johnson, Davis Love III – 7:50 a.m.
Ryan Palmer, Ben Crane, Johnson Wagner – 7:50 a.m.
Marc Leishman, Ben Curtis, Adam Scott – 8:02 a.m.
Robert Garrigus, Jim Furyk, Jason Day – 1:02 p.m
Also in the field, riding high from their performances at the US Open, are Beau Hossler and Jordan Spieth. Spieth has had some strong performances when he has gotten the opportunity to play on Tour and this course seems like a places where he could make the cut. Hossler, who held the lead briefly at Olympic, obviously feels the same way: “I respect the games of every player out here,” Hossler said. “But I feel like I can go out there and compete.” Both of these youngsters have a ton of game and it wouldn’t be surprising at all to see both of them make the weekend.
- Tiger Woods. The winner here in 2009 and already has two victories in 2012. He is the events host and the obvious name, but that still doesn’t mean he won’t win. Yes, the weekend at the US Open was a huge, ginormous, colossal, disappointment but with six Top 25’s in 10 events this year and only one missed cut, he is the clear favorite.
- Hunter Mahan. I liked Mahan a lot last week at the Travelers but he was unable to get the putter going until the final round, but when he did… WOW. When he is firing on all cylinders it seems like nobody posts as many sub-65 scores as him. He is a ball-striking machine, ranking third in GIR and seventh in Total Driving which will serve him well at Congressional. The only question mark is his putting but after his Sunday 61 last week, he should be able to carry over that confidence. If I still had Mahan in the One and Done format, I would strongly consider using him in this spot.
- Jim Furyk. That was a crushing loss at the US Open and hard to watch one of the great guys in the game have to go through something like that at what may have been his last chance to realistically win a major championship. But if that hangover is gone, Furyk has a lot going for him this week in D.C. as he has two t3’s and a t7 the three times the AT&T has been at Congo. Moreover, Furyk has been a virtual cash machine this year. Since missing the cut at the Honda in March, his worst finish is a T26 and has seven top 15’s in nine events = FIRREEEEE. If all of that wasn’t enough to have Furyk listed here, his caddie Fluff Cowen is a member at Congressional (stars are aligning as a type this)
- Dustin Johnson. Seems to fit the bill as a big name that could jump up and win this event on a tough golf course. Disappointing US Open week but has played really well since taking a couple of months off after injuring his back. Can hit the right to left shot off the tee with ease and can overpower almost any course on which he tees it up.
- Bo Van Pelt. Has cooled off some since the beginning of the year but still hasn’t missed a cut since April. Third in putting, eighth in Total Driving and fifth in the All Around ranking, if he can keep his GIR number up this week, he should be around on Sunday.
- KJ Choi - 2007 Champ hasn’t had the best of years, but is showing some signs of rounding into better form with back to back top-20 finishes. Choi has a good history at this event and has a history of playing well on tough golf courses. Look for KJ to post another good finish.
- Robert Allenby – Another player who hasn’t had a good season so far but has some great finishes at this event with three top-6 finishes since 2007.
- Davis Love III – Been playing some decent golf since coming back from a rib injury. Still has plenty of game and this is a course that could set up well for him. If not, he can keep an eye on his potential Ryder Cup contenders.
- Ryan Palmer – Loves to sling a draw, hits it miles and is putting well of late. Oh, and he has four top 10’s in his last five events.
- Robert Garrigus – Top-30 finishes all three times AT&T has been held at Congo, t3 at the US Open here last year. Sneakkkkkkkkky pick.
- Guys Coming In Hot: Brian Davis, Freddy Jacobson, John Rollins, Palmer
- Guys Coming In Not: Ryan Moore, Kyle Stanley, Ben Crane, Charles Howell III
- Sleepers: Kevin Chappell, Pat Perez, Seung-Yul Noh, Kevin Stadler