Congressional playing like a U.S. Open at AT&T

By Doug FergusonJune 28, 2012, 10:48 pm

BETHESDA, Md. – Bo Van Pelt kept bogeys off his card and picked up an extra shot when his wedge spun back into the hole for an eagle. It's a formula that would work well at a U.S. Open, which is what Congressional felt like Thursday in the AT&T National.

On a day when the temperature was in the 90s and only seven players managed a score in the 60s, Van Pelt opened with a 4-under 67 to grab a one-shot lead over Vijay Singh, Brendon De Jonge and Jimmy Walker, who bogeyed his final hole.

Tiger Woods was never under par in the afternoon and opened with a 1-over 72.

So this is what the U.S. Open was supposed to look like.

The venerable Blue Course took a beating last year in the so-called toughest test in golf when unfavorable weather conditions in the weeks leading up to the U.S. Open and overnight rain during the championship made Congressional a pushover. Rory McIlroy had a record score of 16-under 268 for an eight-shot victory.

The AT&T National was more of a grind.

''It's certainly, I think, a little retribution for what happened last year,'' Woods said. ''Don't be mad at me. I didn't play.''

Woods missed the U.S. Open last year while recovering from injuries to his left leg. He won at Congressional in 2009 the last time the AT&T National was played here, and he won at 13-under 267. That was nothing like the course he faced Thursday.

Billy Hurley III, who went to the Naval Academy and spent five years in the service, joined Pat Perez and Jason Day at 2-under 69.

The seven players in the 60s were two less than the opening round at the U.S. Open last year. Four players failed to break 80, just like a year ago, only the 120-man field at the AT&T National is filled with PGA Tour players. For the U.S. Open, two of those rounds in the 80s were by amateurs, a third by Ty Tryon.

''I think everybody knows the golf course last year just wasn't quite ready to be set up the way they wanted it to be set up, and it's unfortunate,'' Van Pelt said. ''I know they spent a lot of time and money to get it ready, and some things are out of your control. I said it last year - they needed one more year, and basically you could have a U.S. Open here this week if you wanted it.

''That's the way it's set up.''

The sunshine and heat figure to make it tougher over the next few days, especially on the weekend.

Nick Watney, the defending champion (at Aronimink) who was in the large group at 70, said the more fair comparison was with the U.S. Open held two weeks ago at The Olympic Club. Michael Thompson led after the opening day at 4-under 66, and Webb Simpson won at 1-over 281.

Van Pelt only twice struggled to make par, making a 30-foot putt on the 15th and a 20-footer on the par-5 sixth hole. Equally impressive was his bunker shot on the 18th to tap-in range, and he took those vibes to the first hole. After an aggressive drive, he had 93 yards to the hole and figured it was a good time to put to test all the work he has done on his wedge play. It worked out better than he imagined, holing it for an eagle.

''I actually thought it had kind of spun back in front of the hole, and all of a sudden this guy behind the green started going nuts,'' Van Pelt said. ''You never know when those are going to happen, so it's nice to get a deuce.''

Even better was not making a bogey and giving himself a good start going into his Friday morning start of the second round.

Woods never got it going, and he made two blunders late in the round with his bunker play, which also was suspect in the U.S. Open two weeks ago. After making a 15-foot birdie putt on the 14th, he put his approach into the bunker right of the green on the 15th. His shot barely got out of the sand, and he stubbed a chip, leaving him a 7-footer that he had to make for bogey.

On the next hole, he was 244 yards from the hole when he pulled a 4-iron to the bunker short of the green on the par-5 16th. The gallery groaned when the ball emerged from the bunker and barely got onto the green, costing him a reasonable birdie chance. He two-putted from 30 feet for par.

Woods attributed it to the amount of sand in the bunkers and that his 60-degree wedge ''is not built for this much sand.''

''So I have to make an adjustment and hit the ball a little bit closer, make sure I hit a little closer to the golf ball,'' he said. ''And I just didn't do it.''

Dustin Johnson, Hunter Mahan and Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III were at 70, along with Robert Garrigus, who tied for third last year at the U.S. Open by breaking par in all four rounds. He feigned a yawn coming out of the clubhouse Thursday. ''Just another round under par here,'' he said.

His 70 in the opening round of the AT&T National felt more like a 67.

''I was flying irons around the hole and they were gone,'' he said, referring to the firmness of the greens.

It was a big day for Hurley, for so many reasons – a Navy man at a tournament that celebrates the military, on a Congressional golf course not far from where he learned to play golf and then attended the Naval Academy.

''I think they started Plebe summer today,'' Hurley said, grinning.

Hurley played bogey-free until a litany of bad breaks on his last hole. His tee shot hit a tree and went even farther left, making it tough to even get back to the fairway. His third shot that he laid up short of the green settled into a divot. And his par putt from 20 feet hit a spike mark.

Even so, he was happy with the start.

''This is a heck of a golf course,'' Hurley said. ''You have to hit a lot of quality shots, and I was able to do that. Even at this place, you hit quality shots that end up with not a good look at birdie sometimes.''

Luke List, Justin Thomas, Tommy Fleetwood and Tiger Woods at the 2018 Honda Classic Getty Images

Honda leaders face daunting final day

By Randall MellFebruary 25, 2018, 12:46 am

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – The winner may need a cut man in his corner more than he needs a caddie on his bag in Sunday’s finish to the Honda Classic.

Smelling salts might come in handy, too.

“It just feels like you are getting punched in the face every single hole here,” Daniel Berger said of the test PGA National’s Champion Course offers. “Every single shot is so hard.”

Final rounds have been especially rough and tumble since the Honda Classic moved to PGA National in 2007.

That usually makes Sundays here as much about who can figuratively take a punch as who can throw one.

Luke List will have his jaw tested after taking sole possession of the lead Saturday with a second consecutive round of 4-under-par 66, but he can take comfort in the fact that punishment is doled plentifully around here.

“Just realizing that everyone is facing the same obstacles out there is huge,” List said. “You're not alone out there, if you make a bogey or a bad swing here or there.”

At 7-under 203, List is one shot ahead of a pair of major championship winners, Justin Thomas (65) and Webb Simpson (66). He is two ahead of Tommy Fleetwood (67), the reigning European Tour Player of the Year, and Jamie Lovemark (68).

List, 33, is seeking his first PGA Tour title in his 104th start. He will have to hold off some heavyweights, including Tiger Woods (69), who is seven shots back but feeling like he has a chance again. Woods closed with a 62 here six years ago when he finished second to Rory McIlroy.

“You never know what can happen the last few holes here,” Woods said. “A lot of things can happen and have happened in the past.”

Amen.


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Crazy things have happened here.

Three years ago, Padraig Harrington was five shots down with eight holes to play and won. He made two double bogeys in the final round but ended up beating Berger in a playoff.

Berger, by the way, was nine shots back entering the final round.

That was the year Ian Poulter took a share of lead into Sunday, hit five balls in the water and still finished just a shot out of the playoff.

Last year, Rickie Fowler made four bogeys and a double bogey in the final round and still won by four shots.

List will have a heavyweight playing alongside him in the final pairing, with 24-year-old Justin Thomas looking to claim his eighth PGA Tour title. Thomas was last season’s PGA Tour Player of the Year.

List has never held a 54-hole lead in a PGA Tour event.

“You guys build up certain players,” List said. “I know I'll be an underdog going against Justin Thomas and guys like that, which is fine.”

There is some inspiration for List in what Ted Potter Jr. did two weeks at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. Potter, largely unknown even though he already had a PGA Tour title to his credit, held off stars Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day in the final round to win. 

Thomas earned the right to play alongside List in the final pairing Sunday with his 65, which equaled the low round of the tournament.

Thomas makes his home in nearby Jupiter and knows the punishment the Champion Course can dish out.

“It's a difficult course,” Thomas said. “If you let it get to you, it can be frustrating, but if you go into it understanding and realizing it's difficult, you just kind of embrace it and deal with it.”

Thomas played the Bear Trap’s trio of daunting holes (Nos. 15-17) in 2 under on Saturday. He birdied the 15th and 17th holes.

Fleetwood got in contention Saturday with a pair of eagles. He’s a four-time European Tour winner.

“I would love to get my first win on the PGA Tour this week,” he said. “It’s just great to be out here. It's great to be playing on courses like this that are such a test of every part of your game.”

Alex Noren, a nine-time European Tour winner, is also seeking his first PGA Tour title. He is three shots back. He lost in a playoff to Day at the Farmers Insurance Open last month.

Though this is just Noren’s second start at the Honda Classic, he knows how wildly momentum can swing on the Champion Course. He shot 65 Saturday after shooting 75 on Friday.

“I’m a few back, but anything can happen,” Noren said.

That’s the theme around here.

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Thomas: Winning hometown Honda would 'mean a lot'

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 24, 2018, 11:53 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Justin Thomas is trying to join Rickie Fowler as a winner of his hometown event.

Thomas will play in the final group alongside Luke List on Sunday at the Honda Classic after matching the low round of the week with a 5-under 65. He is at 6-under 204, one shot back of List.

The reigning PGA Tour Player of the Year is one of several residents of nearby Jupiter. After Fowler won last year, Thomas (who missed the cut) returned to the course to congratulate his neighbor on his fourth Tour title.

“I hope I give him the opportunity or the choice to come back,” Thomas said. “But I’ve got a lot of golf in front of me before I worry about him coming here.”


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More important to Thomas, however, is winning this event, which is played at PGA National, one of the most difficult non-major courses on Tour.

“It would mean a lot,” he said. “It means a lot to win any golf tournament, but it would mean more because of how prestigious this golf tournament is and the list of winners that have won this event, how strong of a field it is, how difficult of a golf course.

“A decent number of my wins have been on easier golf courses, so it would be cool to get it done at a place like this.”

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Woods paired with hotshot rookie Burns at Honda

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 24, 2018, 11:38 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Rookie Sam Burns will be in the biggest spot of his career Sunday – playing alongside Tiger Woods.

Burns, the reigning Nicklaus Award winner who turned pro after two standout years at LSU, will go off with Woods at 12:45 p.m. at the Honda Classic.

Burns, 20, who earned his Web.com Tour card via Q-School, is playing this week on a sponsor exemption, his fourth of the season. He is 13th on the Web.com money list this year, after a tie for second two weeks ago in Colombia.


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Burns and Woods are tied for 11th, at even-par 210.

Sunday is an important round for Burns, who can earn a spot into the Valspar Championship with a top-10 finish here.

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List leads Honda; Thomas one back

By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 24, 2018, 11:25 pm

Luke List, one of a legion of PGA Tour players who live in Jupiter, just two exits up I-95 from PGA National, shot a 4-under 66 on Saturday to take a one-shot lead after three rounds of the Honda Classic. Here's how things stand going into the final round at PGA National:

Leaderboard: Luke List (-7), Justin Thomas (-6), Webb Simpson (-6), Tommy Fleetwood (-5), Jamie Lovemark (-5), Alex Noren (-4) 

What it means: Leader List has played well this season, with no finish lower than T-26 in six starts. Thomas, of course, is the reigning Player of the Year. The next best pedigree among the leaders belongs to Simpson, winner of the 2012 U.S. Open and three other PGA Tour titles.

Round of the day: Thomas and Noren both shot 5-under 65s. Thomas made two of his six birdies in the Bear Trap (at the par 3s, Nos. holes 15 and17), while Noren played that stretch (15-17) in 1 over. Noren made his hay elsewhere, including an eagle at the last that canceled out his two bogeys.


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Best of the rest: List, Simpson and Kelly Kraft all shot 66.

Biggest disappointment: After an opening 76, Jimmy Walker probably thought he was back on track with a 68 that allowed him to make the cut. Alas, the improvement was temporary, as he ballooned back to a 74 on Saturday.

Shot of the day: Tommy Fleetwood hit a fairway wood from 282 yards to within 8 feet of the cup on the 18th hole. He then made the putt for his second eagle of the day.

Quote of the day: "The course played a fair bit easier with not as much wind." - Thomas

Biggest storyline going into Sunday: List may be in the lead, but most eyes will be on Thomas, a five-time winner last year who has yet to lift a trophy in 2018. And of course, more than a few people will be keeping tabs on Tiger Woods. He'll begin the day seven shots back, trying to channel Tiger of 2012 - when he posted a 62 on Sunday at PGA National (which was good only for a runner-up finish to Rory McIlroy).