But there are a couple of subtle, meaningful differences this week. For one, Congressional will play to a par of 71, as it did in last year’s Open. When the AT&T National was staged here from 2007 to ’09, it played as a par 70. The difference: The sixth hole, with a green protected by a pond, has a new back tee that can push it to 555 yards and changes it from a par 4 to a par 5. In addition, the PGA Tour likely will at least occasionally use some of the new back tees at holes such as Nos. 9, 12, 15 and 18 — installed to lengthen Congressional to 7,574 yards, the second-longest course in U.S. Open history.
The down side for golf fans: The field that arrives to take on Congressional won’t closely resemble that which came to play the Open. Then, Woods — out because of injuries to his left knee and Achilles’ tendon — was the only notable absentee. But at least in part because of the AT&T National’s soft spot on the golfing calendar, wedged two weeks after the U.S. Open and three weeks before the British Open, many of the world’s top players aren’t here.
Most of the best Europeans have headed back home, including England’s Luke Donald, Northern Ireland’s McIlroy and England’s Lee Westwood, ranked Nos. 1-3 in the world, respectively. Several established American players who have played here before – Masters champ Bubba Watson, U.S. Open champ Webb Simpson, Players winner Matt Kuchar and young star Rickie Fowler among them — have also opted for a week of rest. That leaves Woods as the clear marquee attraction, but just three other top-20 players in the world are joining him (No. 10 Hunter Mahan, No. 13 Dustin Johnson and No. 16 Adam Scott).
Woods will arrive at Congressional on Tuesday, hosting a news conference and playing his first practice round in the afternoon. Late Monday, Vijay Singh and Y.E. Yang — two former major winners who were in the Open field a year ago, when Yang played with McIlroy in the final group Sunday — spent time on the putting green. For all of them, a different experience awaits.
“We were disappointed that the course played soft,” Lamb said. “We know it wasn’t anything that we did, that it was Mother Nature. But we’re now reaping the benefits of what we had hoped to do last year.”