Tiger Wood’s AT&T National kicks off Thursday at the Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Maryland. This was the same course last year where Rory McIlroy won the U.S. Open by eight strokes over Australia’s Jason Day.
It’s almost as if they turned out the lights and locked the doors because there appears to be little difference between the Open’s setup and what the players found when they unlocked the doors this year. The fairway cut lines are the same, the fairways are very fast and the greens rock hard.
The only hope the players have for some kind of relief comes with a price: it will be so hot this week that the Tour may have to throw more water onto the course than they might have chosen to keep it from dying. With no rain in the forecast, at least they’ll be able to control what water does go on the course.
Bent grass is just not all that tolerant of extreme heat: the four-day temperature forecast is 95, 100, 100, 99. That’s the same kind of heat that had Ken Venturi famously wandering deliriously through his 1964 U.S. Open victory at Congressional.
Because of the timing of the European Tour’s Irish Open, most of the top European players are playing in that, most notably, Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell. Royal Portrush is hosting the Open this year and is essentially a home game for them. We also have 2011 PGA Championship winner, Keegan Bradley following them over there (“This is my second trip to Northern Ireland. The first time I was seven.”).
So the AT&T doesn’t have the strongest of fields, but it ain’t chopped liver either. And, of course, they have Tiger Woods. He’s in the afternoon marquee group with Nick Watney and K.J. Choi and they go at 12:50 Eastern. The morning marquee group is anchored by Hunter Mahan and he’s paired with Dustin Johnson and Davis Love III. They go at 7:50.
We also have such luminaries as Jim Furyk, Vijay Singh and the aforementioned young gun, Jason Day, who will be trying to move up from his 2nd at the Open.
But the reason to tune in is Tiger. This will be his first outing since his difficulties in the third and fourth rounds of the Open at Olympic Club in San Francisco. He looked for all the world like a world beater in the first two rounds — everyone was bracing for the same kind of dominance he exhibited in winning Jack’s Memorial Tournament — but he fell off the boil and finished at 7-over and T21. It will be quite interesting from a mastery point of view to watch how he manages himself.
You can’t say that he’s not keeping it interesting for us.