Players brace for meaner, faster Congressional

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Stan Badz/PGA TOUR
Congressional is facing intense heat this week in its first AT&T National since 2009.
June 27, 2012
Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM

BETHESDA, Md. -- The last time a tournament was held at Congressional Country Club, the winning score was 16 under.

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Don't expect it to be that low this year, even if this isn't a U.S. Open.

The AT&T National is back in suburban Washington, D.C., for the first time since 2009 after moving to Aronimink Golf Club outside Philadelphia for two years, while Congressional underwent preparations to host last year's national championship.

Not much has changed since the renovations, and it took Jim Furyk only one hole to notice.

Standing on the first tee, Furyk saw the rough pinched in up the left side of the fairway, where the bunker is 10 yards into the rough. It used to be right along the rough line.

On the par-3 second, Furyk hit 3-wood in his practice round -- and barely reached the front of the green.

"I said, okay, game on," Furyk said. "Now, I realize what I have to get ready for this week."

He's not the only one.

Defending champion Nick Watney said Congressional is playing harder this week than it did during Rory McIlroy's historic win at last year's U.S. Open.

"The thing I took from last year here was the greens were soft," Watney said. "The rough is pretty healthy, and the greens are pretty firm, and I assume they'll get firmer as the week goes on."

With temperatures expected to reach into the high 90s, and no rain in the forecast, Congressional should play much more firm and fast than it did during the U.S. Open when rain and humidity kept the course moist all week.

"It's way faster than they've ever seen it," said Tiger Woods, referring to what he'd heard from other players earlier this week. "I remember how hard and fast it was in '97 at the beginning of the week until it rained. From what I hear, it's very similar to that."

AT&T National preview

A strong field gathers outside Washington, D.C. as Congressional hosts for the first time in three years.

McIlroy was hardly the only player to break par at last year's U.S. Open. Nineteen others did, too, including Jason Day, who finished second at 8 under, and Lee Westwood, one of four players to tie for third at 6 under.

No one broke par at this year's U.S. Open, where Webb Simpson won at 1 over.

When Woods won here in 2009, he was 13 under, though he prefers the firmer conditions.

"I like it quick, because it certainly puts a premium on shaping shots, and more than anything, keeping the ball under the hole," he said. "We've seen what this place can do when it gets soft, you know, and what the guys can shoot."

We saw it just last week with Marc Leishman winning on one of the easiest courses on the PGA TOUR in TPC River Highlands, which was also softened by rain.

He shot 62 in the final round and finished at 14 under.

The Aussie isn't expecting that kind of number this week, or anything like we saw at the U.S. Open.

"It's set up probably more like a major," Leishman said. "It's a lot firmer. It's definitely going to be tougher. I don't think 20-under is going to be winning or 15-under or whatever won the U.S. Open last year. I don't think that's going to happen again." (Watch full Leishman interview here).

Not that Woods would mind another low number here.

"Below 16 under?" he said when asked about the winning score. "As long as I'm that person, yes."

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