Tiger Woods was tested but found resolve in holding off Bo Van Pelt down the stretch to win the AT&T National at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Maryland for his 74th-career win on PGA TOUR passing Jack Nicklaus for second place on the all-time wins list. Sam Snead’s 82-career wins are the next destination for Woods on the all-time wins list. He began the day one shot behind 54-hole leader Brendon de Jonge and tied with Van Pelt as they were the final group off on Sunday. de Jonge, who had never won on TOUR prior, stepped aside after making four bogeys in a five hole stretch as Woods and Van Pelt turned this into a match-play-esque final on the back nine on Sunday. Van Pelt, with only one TOUR win to his credit (U.S. Bank Championship) and one other world-wide victory (CIMB Asia-Pacific Classic), was all square with Tiger with three holes to play. Van Pelt finished with three-straight bogeys to close out while Tiger finished bogey-par-par for the victory. Woods closed with two-under-par 69 to post nine-under-par 276 to win his own tournament for the second time (2009) and increase his TOUR-leading victory total to three in 2012, passing Hunter Mahan (two) and Jason Dufner (two) in the process. Bo Van Pelt was second at 278 and Aussie Adam Scott fired the tied-lowest round of the day, 67, en route to third place alone at 279.
Speaking of “the process”, Woods again has shown his penchant for some excellent golf here in 2012. He made his first bogey of the weekend on hole No. 16 on Sunday afternoon but he backed that up with a solid six-foot par putt on 17 to put the pressure on Van Pelt heading to 18. Woods and his putter finished T9 in strokes gained-putting this week and it wasn’t until the weekend that he started blasting GIR as well. Woods did not three putt once this week as well. The wedge play that bothered him at Olympic Club hasn’t gone away yet; neither has his pull with his driver. Woods only made 11 birdies this week (T45) but he only made five bogeys (second). Any way you cut that, love him or hate him, it’s a steady performance. After opening up with a one-over-par 72 on Thursday, Woods didn’t win this week with smoke and mirrors. He didn’t parlay one round of 62 into a victory; he earned victory by firing 68-67-69 in the final three rounds, the only player to have three rounds in the 60’s the final three days at a tough Congressional Country Club. Woods dealt with the oppressive heat, delays in play due to clean up from violent wind storms Friday night and playing in front of empty galleries on Saturday after the course was deemed unsafe for spectators. So did every other player that made the cut. Woods dealt with the distractions, or lack thereof, and ground out a way to win. That was a very Tiger-like performance from the days of yore.
Is this a harbinger of things to come or should we just chalk this up to another win on another course at another tournament that Woods is comfortable playing? I guess when he doesn’t win next week at The Greenbrier we’ll all meet back up here to wonder what’s wrong with Woods. It’s the cycle, whether we like it or not, but let’s remember this: He’s the only player on TOUR this year to win three times. He’s now leading the FedExCup Standings ahead of Jason Dufner. He’s now won his own tournament for the second time in four outings (he missed 2008 and 2010 with injury). Any way you slice it, Woods is back again on top of the PGA TOUR. Just like the old days!
Déjà vu All Over Again?
The return to Congressional Country Club looked more like the U.S. Open this week than it did last year. Tiger Woods now has won this event twice is four tries and is number one on the FedExCup standings for the first time in 100 weeks.
Nineteen of 27 (no 54-hole leader in WGC-Match Play) players who held the 54-hole lead have NOT gone on to win as Brendon de Jonge faded on Sunday to fire 77 and finish T11. As if de Jonge needed any extra pressure playing in the final threesome with Woods and Van Pelt, he was also looking for his first career win. Rickie Fowler shot 84 with Woods in the final round at the Memorial in Woods’ last victory on TOUR. Van Pelt didn’t seem as bothered as he was tied with Woods with two holes to play but couldn’t hang on.
Woods’ third victory this season sees the U.S.A win for the 23rd time in 28 events on TOUR in 2012. The only foreign-born players to win in 2012 are Rory McIlroy (Honda), Justin Rose (WGC-CC) Luke Donald (Transitions), Carl Pettersson (RBC Heritage) and Marc Leishman (the Travelers).
With this victory, Tiger Woods collects $1,117,000 and 500 FedExCup points. Woods now takes over the lead for the first time in 100 weeks in the FedExCup standings as Jason Dufner slips to second and Hunter Mahan retains third place.
Young Guns versus Middle Guns versus Old Guns
In 28 events on TOUR in 2012, the “Middle” folks have evened up their season-long battle with the “Young” guys on Tour at 13-13-2. The “Old” folks are woefully behind. Tiger Woods has contributed three of those victories for the “Middle” and this week he broke up a three-week-winning streak (Johnson, Simpson, Leishman) of “Youngsters” to become the man with the second-most career wins on TOUR with 74.
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 THRICE (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.
Bo Van Pelt: I joke every Tuesday that he always seems to find his way into my preview column every week. Van Pelt has had a remarkable season for a guy who has not won. He’s now made 13 of 16 cuts and he adds Sunday’s runner-up finish to his five top 10’s of 2012. Not many guys stare down and beat Woods over the final three holes of a golf tournament and Van Pelt joined that fraternity. But, Van Pelt didn’t go hide in the corner either. He kept piercing fairways, hitting greens and holing putts to keep the pressure on Woods as they headed down the stretch. All it took was one wayward tee shot and one flier lie (both on 17) and that was that. Van Pelt is solid and the numbers back that up. He was T8 GIR, T5 driving accuracy and T6 putts per round. The only number that hurt him this week was strokes gained-putting. He was third on TOUR entering the week but was 41st for the week. Van Pelt repaid his loyalists this week with his T2 finish for his first top 10 since THE PLAYERS (five events).
Adam Scott: Loyal readers of this column know that I am not the biggest Scott fan in fantasy land and he, more often than not, doesn’t make the preview column. There is no question that the skill is there but I find it difficult to “time” when he’s going to play well. I thought I saw positive signs of life at the U.S. Open as he finished his final three rounds 70-70-70, all even par. After opening with 75 that included four bogeys and a double, Scott righted the ship again to play the weekend 67-70-67 (nine-under-par) to finish third alone. He made 19 birdies (T1) and his all-around play was excellent. Scott finished in the top 21 in both driving categories, top 21 in all three putting categories (including T7 strokes gained-putting) and was T14 GIR. Plus, he fired 67 on Friday after showing up seven minutes before his scheduled tee time. I’m not sure if I like that or not, but this is a results-drive business and his results have been excellent his last two time out.
Robert Garrigus: Another player who played well here at the 2011 U.S. Open and in 2007-2009, Garrigus held up again this week as he finished T4. There are different ways to attack Congressional but there is only one way that makes Garrigus comfortable and that is swing as hard as he can. He was T3 in driving distance and that in part led to his T14 GIR. Garrigus used to have the smallest putter on TOUR and now he has one of the longest putters. Garrigus still isn’t comfortable with his flat stick but he made enough putts on these lightning-fast greens to add to his legend at Congressional. This is Garrigus’ first visit to the top 10 in four events and his last since T9 at HP in late May. Garrigus now has hit the top 10 four times in 2012 and three times he’s been in the top four. That’s sneaky good!
Jhonattan Vegas: Vegas returns to the top 10 for the first time since THE PLAYERS and it really could have been even better than that this week. First, he tweeted that he’s from the hottest place on Earth and the heat wouldn’t bother him this week. I’ll remember that for future events! Second, Vegas led the field in birdies made, strokes gained-putting and was T5 GIR. Sadly for Vegas he also made three, double-bogeys that ruined any chance of him contending on Sunday. Those double bogeys were by products of his T67 in driving accuracy. Sometimes, you take the good with the bad but I didn’t see Vegas, who was 112th in strokes gained-putting coming into this week, leading the field on fast, slick greens. After finishing T7 at THE PLAYERS, Vegas backed that up with T69, T56, MC and MC before his T4 this week. Another bomb-and-gouger like Garrigus who just made enough putts this week to make some noise. Vegas was the only player this week to shoot all four rounds under par. I didn’t have that on my radar.
Seung-Yul Noh: The young Korean now has made nine-straight cuts on the bounce with his T4 finish this week. The 21-year old has now made 16 of 20 cuts on TOUR in 2012 and this week marks his third trip to the top 10. Noh entered the final round T2 at six-under but he made six bogeys (of his 10 on the week) on Sunday to never really get into position to put pressure on the leaders. Swing guru Sean Foley mentioned that we’ll start calling him “Soon You’ll Know” before long and if he continues this form, watch out. Good week for Foley as Woods, Noh and Mahan all finished T8 or better.
Billy Hurley III: Neat story this week as the former Naval Academy graduate put on a show for his hometown fans to finish T4. In the fantasy world, if a MC falls on a Friday and nobody is around to hear it, does it make a noise? Before this week Hurley III had made about $80,000 on TOUR in 17 events. He MC 12 times and had zero top 25 finishes. It was neat to see the former Navy man hold his nerve on Sunday to collect over $225,000 and get his season started. He’s now made back-to-back cuts for the first time in his rookie season so I wouldn’t read too much into him moving forward even thought it would be a great story.
Jason Day: To have a baby or not have a baby; that is the question. Day didn’t seem bothered by the fact that’s she’s due any day, didn’t have air conditioning or electricity after Friday’s storms rolled through their home base, Columbus, Ohio. He just went out and tore up Congressional again like he did at the U.S. Open in 2011. Day was flying and had it to six-under before becoming undone with bogeys on 14, 15 and 17 to close out T8. Day used his same formula from 2011 to almost repeat his success this year. He was T3 in driving distance, second in GIR and 19th in strokes gained putting. Day now has hit the top 10 three times in his last six starts. The other three starts he’s MC, MC and T59. All or nothing makes it difficult for gamers who are trying to “time” Day and the impending pregnancy doesn’t help that at all. Well done if you could see through all of that this week!
Hunter Mahan: The third Sean Foley disciple in the top eight this week was our 36-hole leader at seven-under-par after Friday’s round. Mahan went backwards on the weekend as he shot matching 73’s to finish T8. Mahan’s game from tee to green was first-class again this week as he led the tournament in GIR and was T3 in driving accuracy. As usual, it was Mahan’s putter that didn’t pull its weight as he finished in the bottom half of the putting categories. Mahan is currently third in the FedExCup standings because his ball-striking is that good. Even his two bad rounds on the weekend couldn’t knock him out of the top 10. That’s solid, that is.
Nick Watney: Watney is this week’s “guy I faded so he came good” winner. Watney won this event in Pennsylvania last year but MC at Congressional at the U.S. Open. Watney now has finished T21 (U.S Open) and 10th for his best back-to-back finishes on TOUR this season. Watney’s putter was the key this week as he struggled to hit fairways and greens. Maybe this will be the stretch that we see Watney regain some of his 2011 for the rest of 2012. I’m cautiously optimistic moving forward but at least he is showing signs of playing better golf.
“Hey, whatever happened to…”
Kyle Stanley: After starting the season on fire with a win and P2, Stanley since has gone through a slump and is on his third caddy. After playing all four rounds at par or better last week at the Travelers, Stanley finished T22 this week at Congressional no thanks to his putter as he finished 72nd in strokes gained-putting. His saving grace was his iron play as he finished T8 GIR. This was Stanley’s best full-field, stroke-play finish since his win at WMPO in the first week in February.
Marc Leishman: Last week’s first-time winner began Sunday T12 before fading with a final round 77. This goes to show a couple of things on TOUR: It’s very hard to win and it’s very hard to play well in consecutive weeks. Leishman made eight bogeys in his first three rounds and seven on Sunday. As Bubba Watson says, #golfishard.
Jim Furyk: One of the favorites this week in many experts’ eyes due to the tough nature of this layout, Furyk rallied with a 69 on Sunday to save face at T34. He ground out 50 pars but only made nine birdies. Furyk was accurate as always off the tee but he received zero help from his iron game and his putter. It’s Furyk’s worst finish since his season-opener at AT&T Pebble Beach (T40) in February. Gamers, Jim Furyk CANNOT PLAY tournaments sponsored by AT&T!!! That’s what I learned this week about Furyk.
K.J. Choi: After back-to-back events with finishes of T19 and T15, I thought Choi would feel right at home as this event’s inaugural winner. Wrong-o! In 36 holes, Choi made four birdies and 12 bogeys. He did that even though he was T14 in fairways hit. I thought Choi had shown progress in the last two outings, one being the U.S. Open, and this week at Congressional would suit him perfectly. Nope. If Choi wasn’t hitting greens from the middle of the fairway, I’m going to steer clear away from again, where it’s safe.
Dustin Johnson: Johnson made three birdies in 36 holes but still found a way to the weekend. His normally steady driver and iron play deserted him this week as he was T62 GIR and T46 off the tee in accuracy. After his win at FESJC, Johnson MC (U.S. Open) and now T44 this week. To be fair, those are three difficult courses so I wouldn’t use this in an argument against him moving forward. Anyone who takes three months off due to injury and wins in their second event back is not worth omitting after a couple of below-average weeks.
“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 Tuesday at NOON, ET. They will be breaking down the field at the The Greenbrier and answering your questions. Please note the day-of-the-week change. Simply return to the golf home page to join in on the chatter.