Though only in its third year, the AT&T National has quickly established itself as one of the premiere events on the PGA Tour calendar. Much of that is down to the course. Congressional Country Club has hosted numerous Majors; the next of which will be the 2011 US Open; and even if it isn’t set up as difficult for this fixture, this par-70 remains one of the tougher tests on the schedule.
It also helps that the field is normally boosted by the event sponsor, Tiger Woods, with a significant chunk of proceeds going towards his foundation. Tiger missed last year due to the knee injury, but heads the field this time as he bids to put the disappointment of the US Open behind him, and send a reminder to the rest in what will be his last event before the Open Championship.
What do we make of Tiger’s efforts at Bethpage Black, where he started a short-priced favourite yet never got in a blow on the leaders? On the positive side, 6th place reads well given that he was disadvantaged by up to four shots due to an early tee-time, and his long game stats were impressive. Moreover, if you can finish 6th in a Major when plainly well below your best, (an almost identical story to the Masters), you can’t be doing too much wrong.
On the other hand, with the possible exception of St Andrews, Tiger couldn’t really have asked for a more favourable set-up than rain-soaked, ultra-long Bethpage. In similar conditions seven years ago, he won by three with the rest nowhere to be seen. Congressional, a course where driving distance and power are irrelevant compared to accuracy and course management, is nowhere near as suitable. Woods’ record here is fair, finishing 6th in the inaugural running of this event in 2006, but I’m not convinced it equates to a 2/1 chance. I’m also happy to completely ignore the argument that Tiger will be ‘trying harder’ because he sponsors the event. Whoever heard of the great man giving anything other than his absolute best?
So I find myself returning to a familiar theme; win or lose, backing Woods pre-tournament is terrible value. Even when he wins, much bigger odds than 2/1 are available at some stage in-running, as they indeed were for both of his 2009 wins. Moreover, Tiger’s presence in any field ensures better value about the rest, particularly from an each-way perspective.