Is it Tiger’s time again?
There are very good reasons why Tiger Woods is being seen as a big favourite at this week’s AT&T National.
The man seems to have got into a recent habit in what is being seen as his come-back year of winning some of the games biggest titles outside of the majors.
And if that’s the case, his rivals had better watch out for him at this week’s AT&T National, the tournament he hosts at the Blue Course at the exclusive Congressional Country Club in Bethesda outside of Washington DC.
The Tiger first roared again after a more than two-year winless drought in a full-field event on the US PGA Tour back in late March when he won the Arnold Palmer Invitational shortly before heading off to Augusta National to take a shot at narrowing the gap between his 14 and Jack Nicklaus’s record 18 major titles.
It didn’t happen. Tiger finished in a tie for 40th in a group that included the then World No one Rory McIlroy. That left the pair with one major gone and three more to go.
Then, after a second tie for 40th and a missed cut, Woods hit back by winning the Nicklaus-hosted Memorial in style.
Not surprisingly he was consequently tipped as a strong possibility to relieve McIlroy of the his US Open title in the second major of the year a few weeks later, but once again Woods went away disappointed as he saw Webb Simpson win the title and join Masters champion Bubba Watson in helping America take back two of the majors that had been held by players from other shores for the past couple of years.
In short then, it looks as if it might just be time for a resurgent, though inconsistent Woods to mount another winning charge, especially as he, in affect, will tee off as the defending champion for was he not the winner when the AT&T was last played here at Congressional in 2009?
Nick Watney and Justin Rose won the event in 2010 and 2011 when it was played at Aronimink Golf Club outside Philadelphia during a time when Congressional, which had been hosting the event since 2007, was being spruced up for last year’s US Open, the replacement of it’s poa annua greens with bent grass subAir versions being one of the major changes that were made to the original Devereaux Emmett course that has seen many changes being made since it first opened in 1924.
Famed golf course architects Donald Ross, Robert Trent Jones and Rees Jones have all been involved in redesigns here and the latest makeovers have seen the course stretch 314 yards since Tiger’s 2009 victory here to a hefty 7,569 yards for last year’s US Open.
Tiger can no longer be classed as one of the longest drivers on Tour. Not when compared with the likes of Bubba Watson and Dustin Johnson. But he is long enough and his current strength, his ability to find the greens with his approach shots ( he is presently listed as the Tour’s No 2 in greens hit) could be a crucial factor this week.
Putting could be another. The new bent grass greens are expected to get increasingly faster in the hot and dry conditions being forecast this week and should be a lot more problematical than they were at the US Open last year when the damp conditions in the early part of the tournament made them a little more forgiving than they were meant to be.
Watney, one of the best of the younger Americans in recent years, will clearly find Congressional a totally different proposition in his defence of the title, but he is a good enough golfer to make of a fight of it, nevertheless.
We were once more reminded of that when his albatross on the par-five 17th at Olympic Club helped him finish in joint 21st place at the US Open.
Two other of America’s ‘young Turks’ being seen by golf-wise observers this week as possible winners are Johnson and Hunter Mahan, who like Watney are in the running for US Ryder Cup caps this year.
Mahan, especially, is sitting on the kind of credentials that will interest the punters.
His tie for 8th here in 2007, for 12th in 2008 and for 2nd in 2009 is a clear indication that the course is to his liking and he is coming into the event with some form, having finished in a tie for 11th at the Travelers last week where he rounded of his effort with a confidence-boosting, career-low 61.
Johnson missed the cut at the US Open, but prior to that he had come back from an injury enforced lay-off to tie for 19th at The Memorial and to win the FedEx St Jude Classic earlier this month and his booming drives could be a significant factor on this lengthened course
Yet it may not be an upwardly mobile young gun or one of the tour’s big bombers who stands out as one of the biggest threats to a 73rd Tour victory for Tiger.
Seasoned Jim Furyk of the unusual backswing, did, after all, share both the 36 and 54 hole leads at Olympic Club with Woods two weeks ago and although he had to eventually settle for a 4th place tie, he certainly did enough to suggest that he’s ready to win again.
And his seven top 15s in his last nine starts and his three top 10s in as many starts at Congressional help to strongly underline the threat he poses.
And foreign threats? Are there any Tiger should be keeping his eye on?Maybe.
KJ Choi, the winner here at the first AT&T National at Congressional in 2007, has been having something of a dry spell, partly because he has not been hitting his irons with the same deadly effect as he has in the past, but strong, top 20 finishes at the Memorial and the US Open would suggest his game is on the mend and that he too is another who might be ready to win again.
So too might Scotland’s Martin Laird, who has been described by the US PGA Tour site’s Rob Bolton, as, “A nice fit on paper given his length off the tee and propensity to hit greens in regulation (currently 10th on TOUR). Also tends to play difficult courses well, so firm and fast conditions would cater to his game.”
And let’s not forget England’s US-based Brian Davis who posted his third tie for 4th of the year at last week’s Travelers Championship where he also shared the 54-hole lead.
But there is a strong possibility that who ever wins at tough Congressional this week, he is going to have to get past Tiger, who hasn’t won a major this year but has won two big tournaments and currently ranks second on Tour in all-round statistics
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