Inside the Ropes
The AT&T National
Congressional Country Club, Bethesda, Maryland
Yards: 7,569 as per the scorecard
Par: 71 (36-35)
Average green size: 5,600 square feet
Stimpmeter: 14.5 ft.
Water Hazards: 5
Course Architect: Devereux Emmet (1924); Rees Jones (1989); McDonald and Sons (2009)
Notes: Bentgrass fairways,rough and greens
Winner’s Share: $1,117,000 and 500 FedExCup points
Defending Champion: Nick Watney held off K.J. Choi for his fourth-career victory on TOUR.
Date: June 28-July 1
Notes: Gamers, please note that the AT&T National was played at Aronimink Golf Club outside of Philadelphia in 2010 and 2011 while Congressional was preparing for the U.S. Open in 2011. There are only 120 players in this invitational field.
The AT&T National will be playing its sixth event. The first three years Congressional Country Club played host to Tiger Wood’s tournament. The tournament moved to Aronimink Golf Club outside Philadelphia for years four and five. Congressional Country Club returns in its new form to resume its hosting duties this week.
K.J. Choi won the inaugural event in 2007. Anthony Kim, remember him, won in 2008. Tiger Woods broke through as the final winner at Congressional before the greens were completely renovated before the 2011 U.S. Open.
Justin Rose (2010) and Nick Watney (2011) were the two winners at Aronimink during the U.S. Open hiatus.
Young Guns versus Middle Guns versus Old Guns
In 27 events on TOUR in 2012, the “Young” folks have now won three tournaments in a row to take the season-long lead over the “Middle” guys and the “Old” dudes, 13-12-2. I’m not very good at maths so I’ll keep track for you!
For the “Young”, age during their victory in ( ), Johnson Wagner (31), Brandt Snedeker (31), Kyle Stanley (24), Bill Haas (29), John Huh (21), Hunter Mahan TWICE (29) Rory McIlroy (22), Justin Rose (31), Rickie Fowler (23), Dustin Johnson (27), Webb Simpson (26) and now Marc Leishman (29) are your winners.
The “Middle” guys are Mark Wilson (37), George McNeill (36), Luke Donald (34), Tiger Woods TWICE (36), Bubba Watson (33), Carl Pettersson (34), Ben Curtis (34), Matt Kuchar (33), Jason Dufner TWICE (35) and Zach Johnson (36).
Steve Stricker (44) and Phil Mickelson (41) are the only “Old” guys to hit the board in 2012.
So What? So Let’s Dance!
The Blue course closed in 2009 for a greens renovation that rebuilt all 19 greens (including practice green), with sub-air systems, soil moisture measuring systems, and replaced the Poa annua with bentgrass. A new tee on No. 3 added 10 yards and created a slight dogleg left, as the fairway was shifted right to bring landing zone bunkers back into play. A new tee on No.4 added 40 yards and the fairway was shifted left to create a sharper dogleg. No. 6, is now a risk/reward par-5. A new tee on No. 9 added 30 yards. The par-3, 218-yard No. 10 was the finishing hole at the 1997 U.S. Open, and now plays in the opposite direction. The fairway on No. 11 was shifted right, against the stream. A new tee on No. 12 added 55 yards and is now the front tee of the adjacent No. 15. A new tee on No. 15 added 50 yards, bringing the landing zone bunkers along right side of slight dogleg left back into play. The fairway bunkers were moved further down the drive zone on No. 16. This is the first year the AT&T National will be played at Congressional since the course changes were completed. –source GCSAA
The last time anyone played the “new” Congressional was the 2011 U.S. Open so that’s where I’ll be looking for history this week. Putting on Poa annua greens versus bentgrass greens are two, totally different animals. This week, Woods and Congressional have the greens slicked up to run 14.5 on the stimpmeter so you better have guys who can putt fast greens. Congressional will also have their rough grown up (four inches) so balls that don’t find the fairway or the green will be difficult to get close to the hole. And it’s going to be hot again this week with temperatures in the mid-to-upper 90’s throughout the weekend. You didn’t think Tiger was going to make this a cake-walk, did you? I’m shying away from “history” at this event and looking more at the guys currently on form.
No question this will be one of toughest fields to project with the venue and course changes over the last six years. Plus the weather is going to be hot, hot and hotter. Hang on to your hats!
The 15 players who I think will make the most noise, as always, in order.
Tiger Woods: If Congressional is going to be playing long and difficult, it’s impossible to leave Woods out of the best-of-the-best this week. His driving, iron play and putting has been extremely solid this season. His problem at the U.S. Open was judging his short iron game. He looked as he never felt comfortable judging distances on the weekend so I’m pretty sure he’s been working on that aspect of his game heading into this week. He has the greens running over 14 on the stimpmeter and nobody putts fast greens better than Woods. I would be quite surprised if he finished out of the top five this week.
Dustin Johnson: His 2012 started off rocky with a plethora of injuries but since his return at the Memorial, Johnson has quickly rounded into form. He knocked off his rust at Memorial when he finished T19. He backed that top 25 up with a victory in his next start at FESJC where he closed with 66. He MC at the U.S. Open on the number so I wouldn’t worry too much about that this week. In his last visit to Congressional in the 2011 U.S. Open, he played his last three rounds in even par or better to finish T23. He’s familiar with this track and his length will come in handy on this par-71, 7,569 yard monster.
Hunter Mahan: Last week he closed with 61 at TPC River Highlands in his attempt to hit the top 10 for the first time in seven events since his win at SHO in early April. Mahan never has a problem hitting fairways and greens, he’s the No. 2 ball-striker on TOUR, but it’s his short game that separates him from the pack. If his putter continues its cooperation from last Sunday it will be no surprise that Mahan becomes the first three-time winner on TOUR in 2012. Even though Mahan MC at the 2011 U.S. Open, he did make 26 pars in 36 holes. That’s solid.
Jim Furyk: Sure, he’ll be smarting from his last five holes at Olympic Club in his last time out, but I believe the best medicine for Furyk will be getting back on another tough golf course this week. You shouldn’t worry about Furyk’s mindset as the TOUR vet will have no problem getting back into the swing of things this week. His worst start in his last nine tournaments is T26. If you liked Furyk, as I did, at the U.S. Open, there is no reason not to like him again this week. His ball-striking, besides those final five holes, has been excellent and his putting looks more and more like 2010. If this week is going to be a grinder, Furyk is a wonderful grinder.
K.J. Choi: What a difference a few weeks make, right? Choi had spent most of April and May on my list of golfers to avoid as he didn’t hit the top 25 in eight-consecutive events. His game turned with T19 performance at Memorial, which even included a third round 77. He backed that up with T15 at the U.S Open in his next event. Choi should have good vibes around Congressional as he won the inaugural AT&T National here in 2007.
Bo Van Pelt: Another week, another tournament, another Bo Van Pelt ranking in the top 10. Van Pelt has made 12 of 15 cuts and has landed in the top 25 nine times. Van Pelt was also T10 heading into the final round of the 2011 U.S. Open at Congressional before his even-par-71 saw him fall into a T14. Van Pelt made 53 pars and 11 birdies last year during the U.S. Open so that shows me that he more than likes this track. I’m not over-thinking this selection.
John Huh: The “Question Mark” is back in business this week after a 70-75 showing at the Travelers his last time out. On a course where hitting fairways and slick putting skills are required, Huh’s game lines up perfectly for Congressional. Huh is ninth in driving accuracy and is 23rd in total driving so he can get it down the fairway as well. Huh also ranks seventh in total putting. Before his MC last week, he was T19 at the Memorial and T5 at CPIC. He’s having an excellent rookie season and I project him to add to that total this week at Congressional.
Adam Scott: The Aussie will come in buoyed this week after seeing his countryman, Marc Leishman, take home the trophy last week at the Travelers. Leishman, not Scott, was the first Aussie to win on TOUR this year. If you would have told me that before the season started, I would probably owe you a 12-pack for losing that bet. Scott has had a solid season but nothing spectacular since his closing-round 66 at Augusta. For those of you who religiously read this column, you know that I normally don’t rate Scott as I find him on the back-end of the premium players. His 2012 has done nothing to convince me otherwise. Time marches on and even I can change my mind. Scott is coming off of three-straight-even-par rounds at Olympic Club. That’s all the proof I need going into this week at Congressional.
Davis Love III: The Ryder Cup Captain has been riding a nice wave in his last three events finishing T29 (U.S. Open), T3 (FESJC) and T16 (Memorial). I also like him this week because he was T11 in the 2011 U.S. Open on this same track and played all four rounds at par or better. He also made 16 birdies in that event. I’m sold.
Ryan Palmer: If you’re looking for another hot player, look no further than Palmer. In his last five events Palmer has finished T3 (FESJC), T5 (CPIC), T9 (HP) MC (THE PLAYERS) and T4 (Zurich). Yes, his worst finish is T9 in five starts. He just missed out on the U.S. Open at Olympic Club but he did play at Congressional in 2011 and he finished T21.
S.Y. Noh: This might not be the place where he garners his first TOUR win but in his recent form, it’s hard not to look in his direction this week. After missing back-to-back cuts at SHO and RBC, the South Korean has rattled off eight-straight cuts-made. His last two events on TOUR saw him cash T7 (FESJC) and T18 (Travelers). Noh will look to join K.J. Choi, Anthony Kim and Tiger Woods as players of Asian descent to win the AT&T at Congressional. That would be a big ask for the 21-year old, but his play forces him into that question. Noh also played the 2011 U.S. Open at Congressional at finished T30 at age 20.
Brendon de Jonge: Speaking of streaks in the cuts-made department, de Jonge ran his to 10-in-a-row last week at the Travelers after his T8 finish. Last week, I told you to keep quiet as he made our “dark horses” section after nine-straight cuts. This week, he bumps into the big list after playing the final 54 holes at TPC River Highlands in 13-under par. I’m not in love with his putting numbers but he’s 15th GIR and a decent scrambler.
Rory Sabbatini: After missing the cut in five of six events, Sabbatini has started to heat up in his last three outings on TOUR. He showed signs of life with four-consecutive 71’s in making the cut at CPIC. That bit of confidence was parlayed into T2 at the Memorial the following week. Sabbatini didn’t play the next two events before finishing T18 last week at Travelers after playing his 54-holes nine-under par. Sabbatini will have no problem grinding it out again at Congressional after his T30 at the U.S. Open in 2011.
Ben Curtis: Remember him! The last time we saw Curtis was his 70-79 MC at Memorial, but before that, he was on fire. A victory at VTO was followed by T13 (Zurich), T5 (WFC) and a T2 (THE PLAYERS). A superior striker of the golf ball and a fantastic putter, a long, difficult course should set up well for Curtis.
Brian Davis: Davis was teasing fantasy players again last week as he began the final round at the Travelers tied for the lead only to fire an even-par 70 on Sunday to finish T4. Davis has the same method week in and week out: hit tons of fairways and make a handful of putts. His scrambling numbers around the green are excellent as well as he checks in at 20th on TOUR. He was T25 and T4 in his last two starts and I look for his solid play to carryover this week.
--Guys that might not jump off the page but are worth a look this week.
Kevin Chappell: I struggled with putting him on the big list above but thought this was more of an appropriate setting because Chappell has only two finishes in the top 25 this season. One of those top 25’s was a T10 at the U.S. Open. It was Chappell’s best finish since his T3 last year at the CMNHC at Walt Disney World and his T3 at Congressional in the 2011 U.S. Open. If I’m Chappell’s caddy, I’m telling him this is the U.S. Open Part II this week. In the five events before the U.S. Open, Chappell had three MC and his other finishes were T53 and T41. Strictly a “horse for course” pick this week.
Heath Slocum: Another “horse for course” player as Slocum finished the 2011 U.S. Open T11. Slocum’s best finish of 2012 was T32 (WFC) before his T15 last week at the Travelers. Slocum was T15 and T17 in his last two visits to TPC River Highlands so I’m also hoping his “horse-for-course-ness” carries over to this week as well. Long shot.
Pat Perez: Three of his last four starts have found him inside the top 25 so Perez has been on a nice run of form lately. He also has an excellent history at the “old” Congressional from 2007 through 2009 at this event. His ball-striking, scrambling and putting numbers project well this week.
Robert Garrigus: T3 at the 2011 U.S. Open should have flagged him for you this week. Add to that his three, top 30’s at the “old” course and you’ve found yourself a nice bomb-and-gouger for this week. After a T9 at HP, Garrigus has faded with T70, T42 and MC in his last three starts, hence why he falls in this category.
James Driscoll: In his last six events on TOUR Driscoll has finished T9, MC, T19, MC, MC and T18 last week at the Travelers. Driscoll makes his money with the putter and his short-game around the greens. He’s worth a look.
Four (or Five) Left Out
Each week I select four or five golfers who I will leave out for one reason or another. This segment of the column has taken on a life of its own as each week it seems like one of the five play really well. Last week, Bubba Watson overcame his struggles at Olympic and finished T2 at Travelers. Sure, it’s a no-brainer a week later…Watson joins K.J. Choi (T15, U.S. Open), Robert Allenby (T7 FESJC), Dustin Johnson (T19 Memorial) as some of my solid fades!
Jason Day: I don’t like guys whose wife is due to give birth. Maybe if this was Ben Crane at the McGladrey I would change my mind. In Day’s last two events in June Day finished MC outside his new home (Columbus) at the Memorial and was T59 at the U.S. Open. Yes, I understand that Day was second here at the U.S. Open last year but his wife wasn’t pregnant then either.
Nick Watney: I feel like I am picking on Watney. I’m invested in him in a season-long game and this season has been a long one. For anybody touting Watney this week “because he won here last year” is well, wrong. Watney won at Aronimink Golf Club in Newton Square, PA. The greens were bigger and slower. The course played almost 300 yards shorter. Watney had a nice U.S. Open at Olympic Club, finishing T21, but he MC (75-73) at the U.S. Open at Congressional last year. Nick Watney has finished in the top 25 (full field, stroke-play events) a whopping two times in 2012. I’ll need more than “defending champion” this week on Watney.
Camilo Villegas: I saw signs of life last week as Villegas opened 68-64 at the Travelers but it seemed like he ran out of gas with 70-72 on the weekend. It was Villegas’ best start in five outings since his T18 at Zurich. It’s almost impossible to believe that he’s currently 124th on the money list. Villegas MC at the U.S. Open here last year as well.
Gary Woodland: He was T23 last year at the U.S. Open and that would be his best finish of 2012. His T24 is currently the best finish of 2012 for Woodland who sits 122nd on the current money list. The Butch Harmon experiment is coming along and the results have been measured in process rather than top 25’s. Again, nobody is saying he can’t play but a look inside his 2012 doesn’t project for this week to be the week he breaks out.
Golf Channel Fantasy Challenge: AT&T National (Glass’s Picks)
Group 1: Tiger Woods
Group 2: John Huh
Group 3: S.Y. Noh
Group 4: Heath Slocum
Ned said, “…
Ned Brown is a long-time contributor for Rotoworld Golf. He’s had documented success in Yahoo!’s game for years. Even if you’re confident in your selections for that game, give his insight a read. Now, Ned also provides us with his Golf Channel fantasy game selections as well!
Full Disclosure: I am NOT Ned! He’s smarter and better looking!
Jim Furyk-- He has been on a roll recently with a pair of fourth place finishes sandwiched around a T13 at the Memorial. His history at the AT&T, when it has been played at Congressional, is very strong with a pair of T3 finishes in '07 and '08, plus a T7 result in '09.
K.J. Choi-- Choi was in a mini-slump in the spring, but he seems to have broken out of that with a pair of top 20 finishes. An added plus is that he won here in the first edition of the AT&T National in '07.
Adam Scott, Nick Watney, Charles Howell III
Ryan Palmer-- One of the hottest players on the TOUR right now with top 10 finishes in four of his last five events. His record a Congressional is just ok, so he is more about using the current hot hand.
Dustin Johnson-- Due to Johnson taking almost three months off the TOUR due to a back injury, I have a lot of starts left on him. His missed cut at the U.S. Open was a surprise, but the week prior to the Open he won at the St. Jude Classic.
Tiger Woods-- I'm starting to run low on starts for Woods. I think you have to have him on this week's roster due to his past history when the AT&T National has been at Congressional, but I'm going to try to avoid using him unless it is clear that he has a good shot at a top three finish.
Hunter Mahan-- I thought I had wasted a start on Mahan last week until he woke up in the final round of 9-under-par 61 to finish in a tie for 11th place. He also has a very good history at Congressional, so I'm going use him the same way as I use Tiger.
Bo Van Pelt, Ryan Moore, Bryce Molder, Brian Davis, Marc Leishman
Ben Curtis-- Curtis posted a victory and pair of top 5 finishes going into the U.S. Open, but he then failed to to make the weekend cut at the Open. He has been off since then and is well rested for hot weather that is forecasted at the AT&T National.
Jeff Overton-- I think this pick is a real tossup between Overton and Martin Laird. I'm picking Overton due to past history at the AT&T when it has been played at both Congressional and Aronimink.
Martin Laird, Seung-yul Noh, John Huh, Cameron Tringale
Golf Channel Fantasy Challenge: AT&T National (Ned’s Picks)
Group 1: Jim Furyk
Group 2: Ryan Palmer
Group 3: Bryce Molder
Group 4: Heath Slocum
“And another thing…”
The analysis doesn't end here. Rotoworld's Rob Bolton will be co-hosting a one-hour live chat with GolfChannel.com's Ryan Ballengee on Wednesday at NOON, ET. They will be breaking down the field at the AT&T National and answering your questions. Simply return to the golf home page to join in on the chatter.