Now, it is back. The week served, too, as a return for Congressional itself, which had its reputation stained a year ago. Rory McIlroy, a young star from Northern Ireland, savaged the Blue Course, setting U.S. Open records for fewest total strokes (268) and most strokes under par (16). The field generally had its way with a course that is accustomed to dictating the terms of engagement.
This week, though, drier conditions — even with Friday night’s thunderstorms — allowed the course to stay firm, making it more difficult to stop the ball on the greens. Woods’s winning total was 8-under-par 276, eight shots higher than McIlroy a year ago.
Is Congressional, after all, worthy?
“It is,” Woods said. “It’s a fantastic venue.”
He used it as a stage to top Van Pelt, the kind of character — 37 years old, from Tulsa, with one PGA Tour win to his credit that’s now three years old — whom Woods has so often vanquished in such situations. He made one signature Woods shot, a 9-iron from behind a tree at No. 12, thrashing at the ball hard enough that he was concerned the club would break upon impact with the trunk and sail into the gallery.
Instead, the ball settled in the middle of the green. Woods simply looked down the shaft of the 9-iron, making sure it hadn’t bent.
“He’s an amazing player,” Van Pelt said. “He’s fun to play with. That’s why you travel 30 weeks a year, why you get up in the morning and you make the sacrifices that you do to have the opportunity to play the best player in the world in the final round with a chance to win the tournament.”
Van Pelt, though, merely became victim No. 74. Though he remained tied with Woods through No. 16 — where both players made bogey — he bogeyed 17 and 18 as well.
“I’d say he’s playing the best golf in the world right now,” Van Pelt said.
When Woods stood in the 18th fairway, he held a one-shot lead, and he effectively ended the event with one final swing of that 9-iron, a gorgeous shot that landed near the middle of the green and nuzzled its way back toward the pin. As Woods walked down the fairway, Lt. Ryan Forbes of the Navy and Staff Sgt. Chris Goepper of the Marines — who had been announcing the arrival of players to the final green all afternoon — stood to the side.
“Shake their ha-ands!” the crowd chanted. “Shake their ha-ands!”
Woods, the son of a special ops soldier who served two tours in Vietnam, walked toward them, took off his cap, and shook their hands. He then walked to the green and finished his business. Tiger Woods and Congressional, both approaching their old standing in the very same breath.