Woods attracts top field at AT&T National
BY Bruce Young | US PGA Tour | 2007 AT&T National | Preview | 04 Jul 2007
The Congressional Country Club’s Blue Course in Bethesda, Maryland, just outside of Washington DC, will this week host the first staging of the AT&T National with the presence of Tiger Woods enough to ensure the success of the event in its first year.
The event has been organised quickly after it was announced earlier in the year that The International, which was originally to be played this week, would not go ahead. It was then that Tiger Woods and AT&T National came together to get this event off the ground and having Tiger Woods as the host and as a participant would ensure not only a committed sponsor but a quality field of PGA Tour peers anxious not to let Woods down.
Woods will of course play for the first time as a father after the arrival of his daughter Alexis Sam, ten days ago and there will be much written and overwritten about the impact it will have on his career from this point on. In the overall scheme of things it will have little effect in terms of his own success in fact it might just serve to inspire him.
The Blue Course at Congressional is a quality layout designed in 1957 by Robert Trent Jones Snr and redesigned by his son Rees Jones in 1989. The home club of many of America’s most powerful politicians and businessmen, the Congressional has played host to two US Opens and a Senior US Open in addition to several US PGA Tour events over the years. In 1964, and just a few years after opening, the course witnessed Ken Venturi’s dramatic US Open victory and in 1997 Ernie Els won a tightly fought US Open over Colin Montgomerie and Tom Lehman.
The most recent PGA Tour event held at Congressional was in 2005 when Sergio Garcia beat Ben Crane after Crane became the subject of a Rory Sabbatini hissy fit late in the final round over Crane’s slow play. Crane remained cool in a crisis and holed a long putt across the green at the last to finish equal second behind Garcia.
The par three last, as it was then, will become the 10th and the previous 17th hole, one of the most demanding and treacherous finishing holes in golf, will become the 18th. The 18th green is surrounded by water to the back right and left of the green and will prove a great finishing hole and arena for this event.
The tournament comes at a nice time in the schedule of many players as with only two weeks before the Open Championship at Carnoustie, it will be used as their final preparation for the trip to Scotland.
It goes without saying that Tiger Woods is the favourite but there will be much interest in the return of Phil Mickelson after missing the cut at the US Open and withdrawing from the Memorial.
This will offer a litmus test of sorts for Mickelson as he looks ahead to the final two majors ahead and the possibility of getting back to where he was around the time of the Players Championship.
The form that Jim Furyk has found in recent weeks indicates that he will be in his element on this demanding layout and is expected to be a big threat to Woods, Mickelson and everyone else in the field for that matter. For what it is worth Furyk was 5th around Congressional in the 1997 US Open at a time when he wasn’t half the golfer he is now.
Adam Scott finished runner up to Garcia along with Crane in 2005 at the Congressional but he is mystery in terms of his predictability or otherwise.
One player who might be worth consideration this week is Steve Stricker who got to the lead in the final round of the US Open before fading over the final nine. This is the style of golf course that suits Stricker and he has shown this season that he is close to his best form.
Once again the field is stacked full of Australians and aside from Scott, Nick O’Hern, who finished runner up just along the road at TPC Avenel twelve months ago has some sort of chance on a golf course where brute force is not a requirement.
Aaron Baddeley gets the chance to bounce back from his last round demise at Oakmont, while Stuart Appleby, Robert Allenby, Rod Pampling, Peter Lonard, Mark Hensby, John Senden, Stephen Leaney, Andrew Buckle and Matthew Goggin make up the rest.