If You Change It They Will Come

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Tournament prestige will always draw a popular crowd. That above all else will determine the number of quality players who enter a PGA Tour event.
 
After that, there are various other ways to draw the top-ranked players.
 
Tournament organizers can inflate their purse, they can align themselves with a golfing legend, and they can even offer up intriguing off-course options.
 
But give a player a great venue on which to compete and they most certainly guarantee themselves of getting the names they desire.
 
Vijay Singh and Ernie Els
Vijay Singh and Ernie Els are just two of the big names on hand this week due to the course change.
Most tournaments really treat us well, Vijay Singh said. For instance, New Orleans ' you couldnt ask for better treatment. But then, when you come to the golf course, its a night-and-day difference.
 
You make your schedule according to the golf course, as well. We love going to a great golf course and playing great golf courses. I think it brings the best out of good players.
 
And a good golf course seems to bring out the best players. Case in point: this weeks Booz Allen Classic.
 
For the past 18 years, the tournament has been contested at the TPC at Avenel in Potomac, Md. And for the past 18 years, the tournament has been struggling year-to-year to get the best players to come play.
 
So while the venue is undergoing an overhaul, Congressional Country Club has agreed to host the event for this year and this year only. Then its scheduled to return to a revamped Avenel.
 
And that is the single, solitary reason ' not the fact that it is preceding the U.S. Open this year ' why 16 of the top 25 players in the world are competing this week as opposed to one of 25 a year ago.
 
I think we've got a great field for Congressional, Singh said. When they went back to Avenel ' nobody wants to play Avenel.
 
Congressional has hosted this tournament seven times before, last doing so in 1986. It was also the site of the 1997 U.S. Open, won by Ernie Els, and the 1964 U.S. Open, won by Ken Venturi
 
Congressional (par-71, 7,232 yards) is a major-league venue and a major-league attraction. It also has a major-league list of past champions.
 
Six of the seven prior Booz Allen winners at Congressional currently have a major championship victory to their credit. The lone exception is Bill Glasson, who defeated Larry Mize and Corey Pavin in 1985. For that matter, during that same seven-year stretch, nine of the 12 players who finished runner-up are also major champions.
 
On the other hand, only five of the last 18 winners at Avenel are current major champions. That highlights the fact that Avenel isnt in the same championship-caliber category as is Congressional, and that the top-ranked players just arent coming the way they used to ' or are this year.
 
Keeping the major theme in mind, it should come as little surprise that a host of proven major winners are the leading candidates to add to Congressional's impressive list of champions.
 
Five for the Title
 
Ernie Els
No one in the field will have more positive feelings upon his return to Congressional than Els, who claimed his second U.S. Open title here eight years ago. Els has only twice competed in this event, and not since 2000. But past history in this tournament means very little considering the course change. Els has won three times outside of the U.S. this year, but it still seeking his first PGA Tour win of the season. Hes hoping his Congressional defense turns out better than his Memorial defense last week, when he tied for 45th.
 
Retief Goosen
Retief Goosen
Retief Goosen is looking for more than just a tune-up to next week's U.S. Open title defense.
Goosen always has to be considered a threat. But when its the middle of June and youre playing on a U.S. Open-style venue, he has to be considered among the short list of favorites. Goosen, like Els, has a pair of Open trophies on his mantle. And just like Els, he has nary a tour win this year. A win this week would be nice, but Goosen really wants to sharpen his game for next weeks title defense at Pinehurst. Goosen, who didnt compete in the 97 Open, has played in only two tournaments since tying for third at the Masters. He missed the cut at the EDS Byron Nelson Championship and tied for 11th at the BMW Championship on the European Tour.
 
Vijay Singh
Singh missed the cut at last weeks Memorial Tournament. Dont expect him to do it again this week. Singh hasnt missed back-to-back cuts on tour since 2001. How good has Singh been over the last three years? His two missed cuts this season equal his total over the last two seasons combined. Singh tied for 77th in the 97 U.S. Open, but that was 23 wins and three major victories ago. Singh said that while in his native Fiji, he didnt pick up a club for 10 days. That would explain his rounds of 77-74 at Muirfield. Expect those calluses to be hardened by the time he tees it up Thursday.
 
Phil Mickelson
Mickelson skipped last weeks Memorial to get in a few practice sessions at Pinehurst. And continuing his major routine, hell play this week to get into competitive form. Phil will be trying to reverse his recent trend of diminishing returns. Since his playoff victory at the BellSouth Classic, he has gradually been slipping down the leaderboard. But he still has only three finishes outside the top 25 this year, and he has yet to miss a cut. He tied for 43rd at Congressional in 97.
 
Adam Scott
Scott is the defending champion, having cruised to a four-stroke victory at Avenel a year ago, when the tournament was contested the week after the Open. While nearly all of the winners at Congressional are current major champions, that doesnt mean they had a major title on their resume at the time of their victory. Only John Mahaffey (1980) and Craig Stadler (1982) were major winners prior to their Booz Allen triumphs at Congressional. The other four ' Stadler, 1981; Fred Couples, 1983; Greg Norman, 1984; Norman, 1986 ' became major champions after their Congressional victories. Scott isnt a major champion yet, but he would seem to be a perfect fit in this latter category.
 
Playing Out the Front Nine
 
Four more players to keep an eye on
 
*Jim Furyk, whose decision to play this week is based solely on the change in venue. Furyk hasnt played this tournament in six years, but he couldnt pass up the opportunity to play Congressional. The 2003 U.S. Open champion, who tied for fifth here in 97, shot 64-68 over the weekend at Muirfield to earn his sixth top-10 of the season.
 
*Tom Lehman, who lost a heartbreaker at Congressional in 97. Eight years ago, Lehman led through three round of the U.S. Open, before eventually finishing third after plunking his approach shot into the water on the 71st hole. A win this week wouldnt exactly atone for that loss, but it would be some form of redemption ' and his first victory since 2000.
 
*Jeff Maggert, who played in the final twosome with Lehman in 97. Maggert shot 74 that Sunday to finish fourth. Few players perform better on difficult venues than does Maggert. He has eight career top-5 finishes in the majors, but he doesnt have a win of any kind since 1999.
 
*Stewart Cink, who also plays tough tracks well. Cink tied for 13th here in 97 as a tour rookie. If the course has any semblance to a U.S. Open venue, expect Cink, who has three top-10s at the Open, to compete.
 
Related Links:
  • Full Coverage - Booz Allen Classic