Five things to watch at the PGA Tour’s AT&T National, which starts Thursday at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md.:
1.) TIGER’S BACK . . . : Tiger Woods, tournament host, is back at the National for the first time since 2009, after missing the past two years with various injuries.
Woods has won twice this season — both, interestingly, in his final start before a major — though that form hasn’t translated to the events he covets most. After a win at Bay Hill, he tied for 40th at the Masters. And after a win at Memorial, he held a share of the 36-hole lead at Olympic Club, then faded badly, into a tie for 21st, at the U.S. Open.
“It was one of those weekends where I just didn’t quite get everything out of my rounds,” Woods said. “It was one of those things where I was a fraction off.”
For the first two rounds, Woods will be paired with Nick Watney and K.J. Choi, both past champions of this event. They tee off No. 1 at 12:50 p.m. EDT Thursday.
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2.) . . . AND SO IS CONGRESSIONAL: Congressional Country Club is back in the spotlight after a two-year absence in preparation for the 2011 U.S. Open.
How will the course play this year? Well, expect it to be markedly different from what we saw last June, when on a rain-softened course Rory McIlroy shattered scoring records en route to a 16-under-par total. When Woods won at Congressional, in 2009, he finished at 13 under. Anthony Kim (’08) and K.J. Choi (’07) were 12 and 9 under, respectively.
“We’ve seen what this place can do when it gets soft, and what the guys can shoot,” Woods said. “But I think this week with the weather forecast, as hot as it’s supposed to be (mid-90s temperatures), I don’t think we’re going to quite see it as fast as it is right now. They’re going to have to put some water on it to try to keep it alive.”
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3.) HAS HE RECOVERED? When last we saw Jim Furyk, he was scrambling on the final three holes in an unsuccessful attempt to catch Webb Simpson at the U.S. Open. That day at Olympic, he shot a birdie-less 74 to drop from a share of the 54-hole lead to T-4, a crushing disappointment for the 2003 U.S. Open winner.
“I’ve had my share of close calls, and I have myself to blame and I didn’t get the job done when I really needed to,” Furyk said. “I think for the first couple of days it stings a little bit more and it’s tough to deal with personally . . . and what I’ve always done is kind of gone through in my mind about the things I think I could have improved on.”
Furyk said he’s been reminded of his near-miss several times in the past few days — at the grocery store, in a restaurant, at the local dry cleaner. This will be his first start since the Open, and it’s good timing: When this event has been played at Congressional, he has three top 10s in as many starts.
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4.) YOUNG GUNS: One player in the under-21 trio (Patrick Cantlay) will be making his second pro start, but at Congressional it’ll also be a reintroduction of sorts for Beau Hossler and Jordan Spieth.
Hossler, of course, was the 17-year-old amateur who hovered near the lead for 3 1/2 rounds at the U.S. Open, before eventually faltering down the stretch. Spieth, who helped lead Texas to the NCAA Championship in his first year on campus, ended up claiming low-amateur honors, after shooting 69-70 (T-21) on the weekend.
For three days, though, Hossler was the talk of the Open.
Apparently, golf fans are still buzzing about it.
He was recognized while buying socks at Macy’s. He was recognized while buying a hamburger at Jack In The Box.
So, what did he take from his U.S. Open experience?
“Probably it’s the confidence and belief in myself to go out there and compete against the best players in the world,” Hossler said. “Obviously, I know I’m not quite to their level yet, but I feel like I can potentially be there in the future if I keep working hard.”
Cantlay, meanwhile, missed the cut last week in his pro debut, firing rounds of 75-67 at the Travelers Championship. He’s since ditched the UCLA stand bag, too, opting instead for a Titleist staff bag.
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5.) PAIRINGS TO WATCH:
• 7:50 a.m. (10th tee): Dustin Johnson, Hunter Mahan, Davis Love III. Playing alongside this year’s U.S. Ryder Cup captain, DJ and Mahan — both winners this season — figure to contend at Congressional.
• 8:02 a.m. (10th tee): Marc Leishman, Ben Curtis, Adam Scott. It’s always interesting to see how a player performs the week following a victory. (In this case, it’s Leishman’s turn.) Curtis already has one of those this year, while Scott searches for only his second top 10 of 2012.
• 12:50 p.m. (1st tee): Tiger Woods, K.J. Choi, Nick Watney. All past winners of this event, and the trio should attract the largest galleries during the first two rounds.
• 1:02 p.m. (1st tee): Robert Garrigus, Jim Furyk, Jason Day. The long-hitting Garrgius has two runners-up this season (and was third at Congressional last year), while Day finished second here at last year’s U.S. Open. Alas, Furyk knows about close calls, too.