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.''

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Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.


Full-field scores from the Singapore Open


Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.

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McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:08 pm

Rory McIlroy's trend of doing everything but hoist the trophy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is alive and well.

Making his first start since early October, McIlroy showed few signs of rust en route to a tie for third. Amid gusty winds, he closed with a 2-under 70 to finish the week at 18 under, four shots behind Tommy Fleetwood who rallied to win this event for the second consecutive year.

The result continues a remarkable trend for the Ulsterman, who has now finished third or better seven of the last eight years in Abu Dhabi - all while never winning the tournament. That stretch includes four runner-up finishes and now two straight T-3 results.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


McIlroy is entering off a disappointing 2017 in which he was injured in his first start and missed two chunks of time while trying to regain his health. He has laid out an ambitious early-season schedule, one that will include a trip to Dubai next week and eight worldwide tournament starts before he heads to the Masters.

McIlroy started the final round one shot off the lead, and he remained in contention after two birdies over his first four holes. But a bogey on No. 6 slowed his momentum, and McIlroy wasn't able to make a back-nine birdie until the closing hole, at which point the title was out of reach.

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Fleetwood rallies to defend Abu Dhabi title

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 12:48 pm

The 2018 European Tour season has begun just as the 2017 one ended: with Tommy Fleetwood's name atop the standings.

Facing the most difficult conditions of the week, Fleetwood charged down the stretch to shoot a 7-under 65 in the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, good enough for a two-shot win and a successful title defense.

Abu Dhabi was the start of Fleetwood's resurgence a year ago, the first of two European Tour victories en route to the season-long Race to Dubai title. This time around the Englishman started the final round two shots off the lead but rallied with six birdies over his final nine holes to reclaim the trophy.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


Fleetwood was five shots behind countryman Ross Fisher when he made the turn, but he birdied the par-5 10th and then added four birdies in a five-hole stretch from Nos. 12-16. The decisive shot came on the final hole, when his pitch from the left rough nestled within a few feet of the hole for a closing birdie.

Fleetwood's 22-under total left him two shots ahead of Fisher and four shots clear of Rory McIlroy and Matthew Fitzpatrick. After entering the week ranked No. 18, Fleetwood is expected to move to at least No. 12 in the world when the new rankings are published.