Quicken Loans National: Players to watch at Congressional

Allen Judd, who pilots the Metlife blimp Snoopy 2, hovered over the Congressional Country Club in Maryland Thursday to capture footage of the Quicken Loans National Golf Tournament featuring Tiger Woods. Judd is a rare breed. There are more astronauts than blimp pilots today. (Katherine Frey and Casey Capachi/The Washington Post)

FOUR PAST CHAMPIONS

K.J. Choi

Age: 44.

World ranking: 66.

Choi won the inaugural event in 2007, when it was the AT&T National. That was the sixth of his eight PGA Tour victories, including the Memorial Tournament and the Players Championship. But Choi has just two top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour in the past year.

Bill Haas

Age: 32.

World ranking: 34.

Haas was an all-America at Wake Forest, and he has become a consistent threat on tour, with victories in each of his past four seasons. He closed last year with a stellar 66 at Congressional to beat Roberto Castro by three strokes.

Justin Rose

Age: 33.

World ranking: 10.

Rose, born in South Africa and raised in England, won this event in 2010, when it was held at Aronimink Golf Club outside Philadelphia — only a few miles from Merion Golf Club, where last year he won the U.S. Open, his first major.

Nick Watney

Age: 33.

World ranking: 68.

Watney’s victory at the 2011 AT&T National moved him to 10th in the world rankings. Yet since he last won on tour in September 2012, it has been a precipitous fall. He doesn’t have a top-10 finish in his past 18 events, and he missed the cut in four of his past six tournaments.

FOUR YOUNG GUNS

Jason Day

Age: 26.

World ranking: 6.

Beginning at the 2010 PGA Championship, Day has seven top-10 finishes in the last 15 majors. He contended at the 2011 and 2013 Masters and tied for fourth at this year’s U.S. Open. Yet his victory at the Match Play Championship in March was just his second on tour.

Patrick Reed

Age: 23.

World ranking: 29.

Reed led Augusta State to the NCAA championship in both 2010 and ’11, and his win at Doral in March was his third since August. Since Doral, though: five missed cuts in eight events, with no finish better than a tie for 35th.

Patrick Rodgers

Age: 21.

World ranking: 963.

The former Stanford star turned pro last week after tying Tiger Woods’s school record with 11 tournament wins. He also beat Woods’s Stanford mark for scoring average, and he opened his pro career with a 66 in last week’s Travelers Championship, making the cut. This will be his second PGA Tour event as a pro.

Jordan Spieth

Age: 20.

World ranking: 9.

After a year-and-a-half at Texas, Spieth turned pro and quickly gained exempt status on the PGA Tour. He contended at Congressional last summer and won two weeks later at the John Deere Classic. He has become a force, playing in the final group at the Masters and the Players Championship.

FOUR IN THEIR PRIME

Keegan Bradley

Age: 28.

World ranking: 24.

Bradley’s win at the 2011 PGA Championship seemed out of nowhere, but now he’s an established factor on tour. Still, the most recent of his three PGA Tour victories came in August 2012. He’ll get a lift from his tie for fourth at the U.S. Open.

Jason Dufner

Age: 37.

World ranking: 19.

Dufner, who lost to Bradley in the playoff at the 2011 PGA, gained a following after his first two PGA Tour wins in 2012 as much for his demeanor as for his game. The Auburn product barely has a pulse on the course, where he dips tobacco and waggles his club at his ball. He broke through by winning the PGA Championship last summer.

Webb Simpson

Age: 28.

World ranking: 30.

Simpson, another Wake Forest product, won twice in the fall of 2011 to establish himself on tour, then took the 2012 U.S. Open to solidify his status as a rising star. He hasn’t been a factor at other majors, though, finishing inside the top 15 just one other time.

Brandt Snedeker

Age: 33.

World ranking: 32.

Snedeker has won six times on tour and has a reputation as one of the game’s best putters. He is coming off a tie for ninth at the U.S. Open, and he finished tied for eighth at Congressional a year ago. Since winning last summer at the Canadian Open, he hasn’t finished better than a tie for eighth.

FOUR INTRIGUING STORIES

Erik Compton

Age: 34.

World ranking: 73.

Compton has twice undergone heart transplant surgery — the first when he was 12, the most recent in 2008. Just playing, though, is no longer enough. Compton has his full PGA Tour card, and a tie for second at the U.S. Open exposed thousands more fans to his remarkable history.

Patrick Cantlay

Age: 22.

World ranking: 415.

Two years ago, Cantlay was regarded as a can’t-miss kid. The UCLA product was the world’s top-ranked amateur for more than a year, a record, and in the summer of 2011 he finished in the top 25 in his first four PGA Tour events, including a tie for 21st in the U.S. Open at Congressional that made him low amateur. But back issues have derailed his ascent.

Billy Hurley III

Age: 32.

World ranking: 236.

The 2004 Navy grad grew up in Northern Virginia and lives in Annapolis. But his Naval background makes him unique in the field. He served for five years and from 2007 to 2009 was on a tour of the Persian Gulf aboard a destroyer. After that, maintaining his tour card doesn’t seem all that tough. He tied for fourth at the 2012 AT&T National.

Tiger Woods

Age: 38.

World ranking: 5.

He hasn’t played in 31 / 2 months following back surgery, but there is no more comfortable place for Woods to return. He has won his last two starts at Congressional, in 2009 and ’12.

Barry Svrluga covers the Washington Redskins and golf.
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