|Nick Watney took over the money list last year with his win at this event. (Getty Images)|
|Nuts and bolts|
Defending the throne
Given the esteem with which he is held, it must seem like a long time ago.
When talented Californian Nick Watney won the AT&T National event last year outside Philadelphia, he climbed to No. 1 on the PGA Tour money list and eventually finished the season as one of a handful of players with two 2011 victories.
Pretty much ever since, he's disappeared faster than the Philadelphia Phillies offense. And been less impactful than ace lefty Cliff Lee.
Watney has dropped 17 spots since the win last summer and has been almost completely off the radar all season, cracking the top 10 at a stroke-play event exactly once, with a distant, eighth-place finish at Quail Hollow.
Even this week, he isn't returning to a triumphant locale, because the event last year was played at Aronimink and has moved back to Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md., where Watney missed the cut at the 2011 U.S. Open.
But enough about the here and now.
Last summer, Watney followed his 8-under 62 in the third round with a 66 on Sunday, making three big par saves and three birdies on the front nine to seize control. He then held off a late charge by 2007 tournament winner K.J. Choi for a two-shot victory.
Watney finished 13 under, tying the tournament record set by quasi-tournament host Tiger Woods in 2009, when it was played at Congressional.
Venue and you
Run for Congress. Get elected. That might be the easiest way to gain access to this private track, which has an estimated 1,500 members, many of them the Washington elite. This is where presidents and senators play, so skulking and furtive guys in dark sunglasses are not uncommon. And we do not mean David Duval.
Track and field
Even after moving off the July 4 week scheduling slot -- a date the Tiger Woods Foundation organizers believed would be advantageous and it turned out otherwise -- the field is mediocre at best. This week features three players from the world top 15 and 11 of the top 50, up from one and 12 in those categories, respectively, in 2011. The Irish Open, with a comparatively tiny purse, drew two of the top 15 and eight of the top 50 this week.
Three whacks from short range
After two years of playing in Philadelphia as Congressional prepared and staged the 2011 U.S. Open, the tournament is back in Bethesda, where it ran in 2007-09. It will be interesting to track where the event goes from here, since the sponsorship deal with AT&T and the site agreement with Congressional are set through 2014, and the club membership will vote after the 2013 event on whether to extend through 2017. The reported vibe from Washington insiders on the future vote results is skewing toward no, and AT&T pulled Woods' bag deal and had him removed as the figurehead of the event after the sex scandal broke. Not a lotta love left there. Would you tie your corporate reputation to Woods? Feel free to discuss.
Rory McIlroy took advantage of new, wet greens last year and destroyed Congressional en route to a record winning score at the 2011 U.S. Open. Well, it hasn't been raining in the Beltway, and the course this year is going to play like an Open venue this week. So sayeth pretty much everybody who toured the venue in practice rounds. Indeed, the Blue Course will be the black-and-blue beast the U.S. Golf Association wanted for 2011 before unusually hot and wet weather wrecked the setup. For those who watched two weeks ago at Olympic Club, this week could look like a U.S. Open lite.
How did world No. 4 Tiger Woods prepare for this week after his underwhelming weekend and T21 finish at the U.S. Open in San Francisco? He didn't. Woods said he spent last week with his bag essentially parked in the garage, then flatly admitted that his finesse game from inside 150 yards has been neglected. Seems sort of self-sustaining, no?
Odds and evens
Odds on winning, via Golfodds.com and the Las Vegas Hotel & Casino: Tiger Woods 11/2; Hunter Mahan 12/1; Dustin Johnson 15/1; Jim Furyk 15/1; Adam Scott 20/1; Bo Van Pelt 25/1; K.J. Choi 30/1; Ryan Palmer 30/1; Jason Day 40/1; Nick Watney 40/1; Ryan Moore 40/1; Bryce Molder 50/1; Martin Laird 50/1; Ben Curtis 50/1; Robert Garrigus 50/1; Brian Davis 50/1; Jeff Overton 50/1; J.B. Holmes 50/1