Tiger Woods. And that’s a rap.
Just kidding, but seriously, this week marks the unlikely and unexpected return of Tiger, which of course has taken care of all the headlines since his announcement late last week, and of course makes the game relevant for the masses once again. I can’t say I disagree that the season’s first two majors missed something with Tiger’s absence, so his return this week is a good sign for the Open Championship, as long as he doesn’t regress or re-injure. I also agree with the common explanation that Tiger’s return this week is merely his way of getting tournament ready for the next major that is a little over three weeks away. Sure, Tiger is not one to tee it up and not think about winning, but he is only three months removed from back surgery, and has only been taking full swings again in recent weeks. There is also the factor that the Quicken Loans National (naming bought from AT&T earlier this year) is sponsored by and benefits Tiger Woods’ foundation. Again, Tiger does not seem the type to rush a comeback before he’s truly golf ready, but regardless of his motivations to play this week, I think it is safe to take a “wait and see” approach before predicting him to get back in, or even close to, the winner’s circle. For now, we’ll humor Tiger and Tiger’s headlines, but also move on to discuss the other factors in play this week.
Quicken Loans National is played on the Blue Course at Congressional Country Club, designed in 1924 by Devereux Emmet, redesigned by Robert Trent Jones and several others, and known for being, due to its close proximity to the nation’s capital, the home club of several past presidents. It is best known recently, however, for being destroyed by Rory McIlroy in the 2011 U.S. Open, where he broke several records and won by a margin of 8 strokes. Last year, Bill Haas got the victory with a Sunday 66 to finish at 12-under par. Playing as long as 7,569 yards, Congressional is the second-longest par 71 on tour, behind Torrey Pines South. There are several other notable players in the field who have had success at Congressional in recent years. Jordan Spieth and Brandt Snedeker, who has been in good form since the U.S. Open, both notched top 10s at this tournament last year. Jason Day finished in the top 10 after finishing in solo-second at 8-under par in the U.S. Open (a score that would have won almost any other Open). And Nick Watney, who we haven’t heard much from this year, finished in the top 10 in 2012 and is coming off a T11 at the Travelers. Watney clearly prefers Aronimink Golf Club, where the tournament was displaced during the two years Congressional was preparing for and hosting the U.S. Open – in those two tournaments Watney earned a T7, a win, a share of the 18 hole record, and a share of the 72 hole record. But based on his success last week, and his success at Congressional in 2012, he could just be at his best this time of year.
Regardless of present form and who comes to play this week, Congressional is sure to provide its annual, above-average test, and only a player who can keep it in play off the tee and maintain precision on his approach shots will be able to hold off the field. People will come for the Tiger, and stay for the drama. Stay tuned for our predictions.