The PGA Tour returns to Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md., for the AT&T National this week. Among those in the field are Masters winner Adam Scott, 2012 FedEx Cup Champion Brandt Snedeker, Jason Day and Jim Furyk.
Congressional’s Blue Course will host the tournament and the site was also host to the 2011 U.S. Open – a tournament won by Rory McIlroy. The course measures 7,569 yards and is a par 71.
“It kind of feels like a U.S. Open again,” Day said of the course. “It’s got some length to it, and the rough is pretty dense out there. I think they cut the rough around 3 1/2 inches, which is not as long as the U.S. Open, but still the volume of the grass, there’s still a lot there.”
“Hitting fairways is crucial this week, and then obviously short game around the greens is very big as well.”
With Tiger Woods serving as host of the tournament, winning means a lot more to the field. Still, Woods the defending champion is unable to play the event due to an elbow injury, and U.S. Open champ Justin Rose had to withdraw due to fatigue.
“I pushed it pretty good at the Open to play it and to play through it” Woods said. “I made it worse by hitting the ball out of the rough and eventually got to a point where I wasn’t able to play here. I listened to my docs and am not touching a club. We’re treating it, and eventually I’ll start the strengthening process of it, then start hitting balls to get up to speed for the British.”
“It is nice to have a four-week break before the Open. Unfortunately, this tournament is in that four-week gap. It’s tough.”
Meanwhile Rose released a statement expressing his disappointment in being unable to play but the aftermath that came with winning the U.S. Open made the tournament physically and mentally impossible.
“This tournament has been very good to me – especially in 2010 (when he won) and I would play if I felt I could,” Rose said. “Tiger and his foundation run a great tournament, and I wish I could be there.”
Despite these two losses, 2012 runner-up Bo Van Pelt says that a win here would be huge.
“There’s obviously a ton of great players that are in the field this week,” Van Pelt said. “Whoever comes out on top this week is not going to feel any less proud of their accomplishment from the field that they’re going to have to play against and the golf course they’re going to have to play against.”
Duke hopes to continue being king
The Traveler’s Championship often is a place where players break through. In fact, the past three winners of the event – Bubba Watson, Freddie Jacobson and Marc Leishman – all won for the first time at the Cromwell, Conn., tournament.
Ken Duke made it four years in a row after defeating Chris Stroud in a playoff last week. Duke said the past week has been overwhelming.
“It’s great, I didn’t realize a lot of guys were pulling for me,” Duke said. “I’ve gotten a lot of text messages and emails. My parents and my wife and two kids came in on Monday night so we did some tour stuff on Tuesday. I also got a big surprise when Senator Mark Pryor recognized me at the Senate.”
“You don’t really realize that people are really watching you, but it feels great just to kind of feel like I’m in.”
Still the victory did come at a cost as he was unable to play much golf. He played a few holes at another event, but not at Congressional. He was scheduled to play it Wednesday before rain washed away his and many player’s practice and pro-am rounds.
On Oct. 24, Duke will be inducted into the Arkansas Golf Hall of Fame at Pleasant Valley Country Club in Little Rock.
Tiger gives back
Twenty-six military members were selected to carry one of the players’ golf bags on the par-4 17th hole that measures 437 yards. Each year all branches of the military apply for the honor and are selected by retired Colonel Dick Johns. Following the event, the military caddies met Woods, who posed for photos in addition to signing caddy bibs.
Woods also discussed students who go through his learning center or get scholarships from the Tiger Woods Foundation, some of which are honored both at the tournament and recognized in the event program.
“I’m very proud of what we’ve done, very proud of all these kids. We’re trying to give them an opportunity, but it’s up to them,” Woods said. “They ultimately have a choice to make. We’re having some kids that have been given the opportunity, taken the initiative and have done some just absolutely wonderful things.”
“This tournament, after my father passed, was a very important event for us with Earl Woods scholars and putting 100 of them into college and then seeing them through. That’s what it’s all about. We’re trying to help as many kids as we possibly can.
Walking the course
The course presents a few challenges. The first I encountered was the par-5 sixth hole. Measuring at 555 yards, it provides a test in length but also trees and bunkers along both sides with the first shot. There is a risk to trying to go for the green in two as any shot that misses to the right lands in the water hazard.
The ninth hole is also a par-5 that is 602 yards – just an extremely long hole. In the 2011 U.S. Open it was played 636 yards. With the 16th hole, the last par 5, players will be playing for birdie as the drive is hit into a hill and the bunkers very much come into play on the second shot.
Congressional is known for its par-4 18th hole. It measures 523 yards and a right-to-left tee shot if struck well puts a player in great position. A ball to the right on the tee shot, the bunkers on the right on the approach and the water behind the green could mean disaster.
They said it
Woods on if it would have been better to not play at The Memorial: “It would have been better, yes.”
Scott on being paired with fellow Australians Day and Leishman: “It’s a good pairing here. It will be fun for us tomorrow. I did an all Aussie pairing somewhere else this year. It’s good fun. Absolutely looking forward to that. It’s almost like going and having a game at home with your mates.”
Day on winning just once on tour thus far: “I think the biggest thing for me was just trying to feel comfortable in my own shoes out here.”
Picks to win
Zac Weiss: I went back and forth between two players, but ultimately decided on Billy Horschel. How fitting would it be for Horschel to win for the second time this year at a tournament hosted by one of his friends on Tour? Any man wearing octopus pants has to be confident and he was in the U.S. Open for three rounds before fading on Sunday. Since winning earlier this year, the Florida Gators alum has found that extra step.
Chris Dazen: I have to go with Jason Day this week. Yes, Day has won just once on the PGA Tour, but he has contended for majors, including the Masters and U.S. Open this year. One of the majors Day fared well in was at Congressional in the 2011 U.S. Open. With Rose and Woods both out this week, I think Day rides the momentum from Merion and gets in the winner’s circle this week.
Chris Dazen also contributed to this report