It's Tiger time on the PGA Tour this week as Mr Woods hosts the AT&T National. The Punter takes a good look at the venue, the market leaders and who he fancies to win at Congressional...
Tiger Woods had been expressing a desire to host a PGA Tour event for some time when The International, the Tour's only stop-off in Colorado, ceased operations in early 2007, after officials announced that they couldn't find a sponsor. After just a month of negotiations, Tiger and the PGA Tour announced that they'd fill the gap in the calendar with the AT & T National.
Since Tiger's extra-marital misdemeanours, his name isn't exactly emblazoned everywhere you look but the AT & T National still raises awareness and funds for the Tiger Woods Foundation and I'm sure as time moves on Tiger will become ever more synonymous with the event. This will be the sixth staging.
Congressional Country Club (Blue Course), Bethesda, Maryland
Par 71 -7,574 yards
Stroke Index in 2009 - 70.79 (played as a par 70)
Originally designed by Devereut Emmet and opened in 1924, Congressional has been tinkered with somewhat since. The legendary Donald Ross soon put his stamp on the place in 1930, the equally legendary Robert Trent Jones Sr re-designed the course in 1957 and his son Rees, has fiddled with the gaff since the 1990s. His latest changes involved a complete re-work of the greens, with the installation of sub-air systems, soil moisture measuring systems, and with a replacement of the Poa annua with bentgrass.
In addition to having hosted three US Opens, the last of which was last year's renewal when Rory McIlroy smashed all sorts of records in the rain-softened conditions, it also played host to the now defunct Kemper Open between 1980 and 1986, the 2005 Booz Allen Classic (formally the Kemper) and the 1976 PGA Championship.
The AT & T National returns to Congressional following a break of two years, to allow for the latest round of changes and the US Open. Since 2009, the course has been lengthened by 319 yards and the 6th hole is now a par five.
Live on Sky at 8.00pm on Thursday and Friday and at 6.00pm on Saturday and Sunday.
First Five Event Winners
2011 - Nick Watney -13 (Played at Aronimink)
2010 - Justin Rose -10 (Played at Aronimink)
2009 - Tiger Woods -13
2008 - Anthony Kim -12
2007 - K.J Choi -9
Hunter Mahan hit his lowest ever round last Sunday with a final round 61 at the Travelers Championship and his final round 62 here in 2009, that saw him climb up into second place, tied the course record, set by Anthony Kim in the first round in '09. He'll have his followers for sure but after he disappointed me last week, I'm not one of them.
Dustin Johnson returned from an 11 week injury lay-off to finish tied 18th at the Memorial before winning the following week at the St Jude Classic. He missed the cut in the US Open two weeks ago though and he looks plenty short enough to me. He finished tied 23rd in last year's US Open here, his only appearance at Congressional.
Jim Furyk is a much more tempting proposition and you can forget his missed cut here last year when the wet conditions meant it was always going to play too long. In addition to his two thirds and a seventh here in his three AT & T National spins, he finished in the top-five in the 1997 US Open here. He clearly loves the place and he showed at the Olympic Club a fortnight ago that when the conditions suit he can come to the fore. The dryer, faster conditions will play to his strengths again this year but I stubbornly refused to get him onside at the US Open, suspecting he'd find one or two too good at the business end. As much as I respect his chances and although I can see him there or thereabouts, I again fancy he'll somehow find a way to get beat.
I've backed Tiger Woods, but only modestly. The field hasn't got much strength in depth and I wanted him onside from the get-go but the one I really like this week, and my only other wager, is Rory Sabbatini.
Sabbatini finished sixth at Congressional in the 2005 Booz Allen Classic, where he caused much ado when he left Ben Crane behind on the 17th fairway. He's found form in the last few weeks and following his arguably unlucky defeat at the Memorial he impressed me again last week on his first appearance at the Travelers Championship when he finished in a tie for 18th.
I like Sabbatini's attitude in contention and I couldn't understand why he was anywhere near as big as he was given both his course and current form.
AT & T Selections
Tiger Woods @ 7.06/1
Rory Sabbatini @ an average of 80.079/1
I'll be back on Thursday or Friday with the In-Play Blog.