Congressional feels like an Open test

By Rex HoggardJune 29, 2012, 12:01 am

BETHESDA, Md. – It’s been three years and what feels like a lifetime since Tiger Woods roamed the grounds of Congressional Country Club in a competitive manner.

Back then he was dominant and dour and the Blue Course was a spongy shell of what it would become. Way back then Woods opened with a 27-putt 64 on his way to a 13-under-par total and a victory.

The only thing similar between Woods’ opening-round 72 on Thursday just outside the Beltway and that ’09 masterpiece was the nagging thought that both cards were the worst he could have possibly signed for.

Changing times, I guess.

In 2010 the AT&T National moved north to Philadelphia for a two-year hiatus and Woods missed last year’s U.S. Open at Congressional with injury, so if he sounded a tad shell-shocked when he paused for a media Q&A after his round it seemed understandable.

“A little retribution for last year,” he smiled, referring to last year’s record scoring during the Open. “And I wasn’t even there last year.”

The golf course the U.S. Golf Association wanted last June arrived a year too late for this week’s AT&T National, complete with hard and fast fairways, bouncy greens and unforgiving rough.

Just 22 players managed under-par rounds on a hot and humid day and there were four rounds in the 80s, the same amount as on Day 1 at last year’s U.S. Open.

Of course, Congressional’s Black & Blue layout is not the only thing that has changed since Woods rolled to victory here in the summer of 2009. The new version of Woods, although much improved since returning from the DL, no longer turns over-par rounds into tournament savers.

The scrambling efforts that once bridged the gap between jaw-dropping performances continue to be elusive. Blue-collar cards that once gave Woods and his faithful hope are few and far between. Instead, when his swing goes sideways his score normally follows, like it did on Saturday at the U.S. Open when he struggled to a 75 to virtually end his title chances.

Thursday’s effort at Congressional could have been much worse, and given the day’s scoring average his 72 was probably closer to par than it looked. He connected on just 7 of 14 fairways and hit 12 of 18 greens in regulation. Missing, however, is that magical short game that once defied the percentages.

In practical terms on Thursday that added up to 28 putts and an 0-for-2 effort from Congressional’s greenside bunkers. He said it was an issue with the bounce on his 60-degree wedge, but it felt more like a bounce-back thing.

“Today was actually pretty good,” said Woods, who is tied for 30th. “The only thing, I just had a couple bad bunker shots. But otherwise it was actually pretty good. I had to get up and down quite a bit today.”

It is worth noting that when Woods was done talking with the media on Thursday he bolted to the chipping green to work with swing coach Sean Foley.

Given Congressional’s juiced-up condition, a “pretty good” short game won’t cut it this week. The Blue’s rough – which is thicker and, Woods pointed out, not graduated like it was at last year’s Open – is where title dreams go to die.

“Pretty good” may work in Hartford and Dallas, but not Washington, D.C.’s Faux Open – a reality that likely drove Woods into the afternoon haze to clip the short grass one chip shot at a time.

The marquee may read “AT&T National,” but this week’s stop is every bit the Open venue as The Olympic Club.

“We've played three U.S. Opens so far this year. We had Bay Hill, obviously Olympic and now one here,” Woods said. “A couple shots today, ball is bouncing as high as flags. It's an adjustment we have to make.”

Thursday’s 72 wasn’t about a wayward swing so much as it was a wanting short game and, at least from 30,000 feet, it has appeared that way for some time. As much as his critics cut apart Woods’ new action, it’s the 12-foot birdie putts that he leaves 6 inches short, like he did at No. 13 in Round 1, that now define the middle ground between good rounds and something that is memorable.

Unlike Congressional, which was manhandled into something mean by architect Rees Jones and the USGA in the years leading up to last year’s Open, the difference between the 2009 Tiger who won the AT&T and today’s version is subtle. It’s a distance measured by inches, like it was on the 13th hole, and, ultimately, the ground Woods still must cover to regain that greatness.

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Watch: Moore does impressions of Tiger, Poults, Bubba

By Grill Room TeamJuly 16, 2018, 10:36 pm
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Johnson begins Open week as 12/1 betting favorite

By Will GrayJuly 16, 2018, 5:15 pm

Dustin Johnson heads into The Open as the top-ranked player in the world, and he's also an understandable betting favorite as he looks to win a second career major.

Johnson has not played since the U.S. Open, where he led by four shots at the halfway point and eventually finished third. He has three top-10 finishes in nine Open appearances, notably a T-2 finish at Royal St. George's in 2011.

Johnson opened as a 12/1 favorite when the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook first published odds for Carnoustie after the U.S. Open, and he remains at that number with the first round just three days away.

Here's a look at the latest odds on some of the other top contenders, according to the Westgate:

12/1: Dustin Johnson

16/1: Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose

20/1: Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Tommy Fleetwood, Brooks Koepka, Jon Rahm

25/1: Jason Day, Henrik Stenson, Tiger Woods

30/1: Sergio Garcia, Francesco Molinari, Paul Casey, Alex Noren, Patrick Reed

40/1: Hideki Matsuyama, Marc Leishman, Branden Grace, Tyrrell Hatton

50/1: Phil Mickelson, Ian Poulter, Matthew Fitzpatrick

60/1: Russell Knox, Louis Oosthuizen, Matt Kuchar, Bryson DeChambeau, Zach Johnson, Tony Finau, Bubba Watson

80/1: Lee Westwood, Adam Scott, Patrick Cantlay, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Thomas Pieters, Xander Schauffele

100/1: Shane Lowry, Webb Simpson, Brandt Snedeker, Ryan Fox, Thorbjorn Olesen

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Woods needs top-10 at Open to qualify for WGC

By Will GrayJuly 16, 2018, 4:34 pm

If Tiger Woods is going to qualify for the final WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club, he'll need to do something he hasn't done in five years this week at The Open.

Woods has won eight times at Firestone, including his most recent PGA Tour victory in 2013, and has openly stated that he would like to qualify for the no-cut event in Akron before it shifts to Memphis next year. But in order to do so, Woods will need to move into the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking after this week's event at Carnoustie.

Woods is currently ranked No. 71 in the world, down two spots from last week, and based on projections it means that he'll need to finish no worse than a tie for eighth to have a chance of cracking the top 50. Woods' last top-10 finish at a major came at the 2013 Open at Muirfield, where he tied for sixth.

Updated Official World Golf Ranking

There are actually two OWGR cutoffs for the Bridgestone, July 23 and July 30. That means that Woods could theoretically still add a start at next week's RBC Canadian Open to chase a spot in the top 50, but he has said on multiple occasions that this week will be his last start of the month. The WGC-Bridgestone Invitational will be played Aug. 2-5.

There wasn't much movement in the world rankings last week, with the top 10 staying the same heading into the season's third major. Dustin Johnson remains world No. 1, followed by Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm. Defending Open champ Jordan Spieth is ranked sixth, with Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Tommy Fleetwood rounding out the top 10.

Despite taking the week off, Sweden's Alex Noren moved up three spots from No. 14 to No. 11, passing Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson and Paul Casey.

John Deere Classic champ Michael Kim went from No. 473 to No. 215 in the latest rankings, while South African Brandon Stone jumped from 371st to 110th with his win at the Scottish Open.

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Spieth takes familiar break ahead of Open defense

By Rex HoggardJuly 16, 2018, 3:50 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – As his title chances seemed to be slipping away during the final round of last year’s Open Championship, Jordan Spieth’s caddie took a moment to remind him who he was.

Following a bogey at No. 13, Michael Greller referenced a recent vacation he’d taken to Mexico where he’d spent time with Michael Phelps and Michael Jordan and why he deserved to be among that group of singular athletes.

Spieth, who won last year’s Open, decided to continue the tradition, spending time in Cabo again before this week’s championship.

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“I kind of went through the same schedule,” Spieth said on Monday at Carnoustie. “It was nice to have a little vacation.”

Spieth hasn’t played since the Travelers Championship; instead he attended the Special Olympics USA Games earlier this month in Seattle with his sister. It was Spieth’s first time back to the Pacific Northwest since he won the 2015 U.S. Open.

“I went out to Chambers Bay with [Greller],” Spieth said. “We kind of walked down the 18th hole. It was cool reliving those memories.”

But most of all Spieth said he needed a break after a particularly tough season.

“I had the itch to get back to it after a couple weeks of not really working,” he said. “It was nice to kind of have that itch to get back.”