June 24, 2014
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This is the former AT&T National, still at Congressional CC. Tiger Woods returns from his three month hiatus this weekend at his tournament. That’s the main story obviously this week; Tiger’s season had hardly even begun when he hobbled home for his last competitive rounds at Doral (only 4 events played), but it certainly hadn’t been successful – only a withdrawal, a made the cut/did not finish, T41, and T25. That said, Tiger has been the best player in the world statistically and in terms of tournaments won over the two previous seasons. An in-form, pain-free Tiger is the best player in the world still, for my money. He’s alluded to some rust from lack of preparation so I wouldn’t get too wound up about him contending this week, but I’ll try to update everyone on how he’s hitting his longer shots in the early rounds. He’s been putting and playing shorter shots for awhile now, but he said he’s only recently been extending himself and getting distance back. If he’s hitting long and accurately, it might indicate he’s back in business a little earlier than we might expect.
Onto the course, Congressional is the brute of the PGA Tour, measuring at nearly 7600 yards for a par 71 – it’s the longest regular course on Tour by True Distance (which adjusts for the par of the course). The course averaged 72.6 over 2012-13 (4th hardest on Tour), largely because of that distance, but also because it has some of the most difficult to putt greens on Tour. Congressional also plays harder than average on middle/short length approach shots (<175 yards) based on my limited data.
Off the tee the course is very long with narrow (~25-27 yard) fairways which yield a normally low driving accuracy. However, the course is actually very easy off the tee, rewarding long drives and rarely punishing wild ones. The fairways are cut narrow, but the area given over to the rough is expansive. In last year’s final round, only 1% of drives ended up somewhere besides the fairway/rough/fairway bunker (trees, out of bounds, water, etc.). The Tour average is around 3-4%. This means that a lot of drives are missing the fairway, but fewer than normal are ending up with those catastrophic misses that cost big strokes. The rough at Congressional isn’t particularly penal and the fairway bunkers are statistically pretty easy to play out of, meaning a strategy based on hitting for distance and not worrying about accuracy is ideal here. The results bear that out; in 2012-13, players who hit for more distance were advantaged relative to the shorter hitters. Bump up J.B. Holmes and Gary Woodland a bit.
One thing that holds the longer hitters back a bit is that it’s pretty difficult to hit the par 5s in two. The 9th measures 636 yards and if the length wasn’t enough, a ravine right before the green makes it a certain layup. Both the 6th (water) and 16th (multiple greenside bunkers) are very well defended to dissuade anyone who didn’t hit a perfect drive. There isn’t a drivable par 4 on the course either.