Tiger Woods, Beau Hossler and other players to watch at the AT&T National

June 27, 2012
Three past champs
Tiger Woods

Age: 36 PGA Tour wins: 73

World ranking: 4

He won in his last start on the PGA Tour, at the Memorial. He won in his last start at Congressional, at the AT&T National in 2009. But what can we expect from golf’s biggest star? His performance at the U.S. Open — in which he was tied for the lead after 36 holes, but finished tied for 21st — brought more questions than answers. Still, he is one of just three players with two PGA Tour victories this year. Could he be the first to three?

Nick Watney

Age: 31 PGA Tour wins: 4

World ranking: 27

Watney was the winner of this event in 2011, the last year it was held at Aronimink Golf Club outside Philadelphia. But he is a worthy winner on any course. Still, he is in the midst of a season in which he has moved backward, not forward. In 14 stroke-play events this year, he has but one top-10 finish, and none in the top five. For one of the most talented players on tour, one who should be in the mix often, that’s surprising. His three Congressional appearances: Missed cut at ’11 U.S. Open, tied for 66th and tied for 36th in two AT&T Nationals.

K.J. Choi

Age: 42 PGA Tour wins: 8

World ranking: 31

Choi is one of the most universally respected and liked players on tour, and the surprising thing about his résumé — given his even temper and solid ball-striking — is that he hasn’t won more, or won a major. He won the inaugural AT&T National in 2007, and has the 2011 Players Championship as his best victory. But his 2012 has been uneven: No top-10 finishes since January, and three missed cuts in his last seven events. The encouraging part: He tied for 15th at the U.S. Open, and he is returning to a venue on which he has enjoyed success.

Three young guns
Beau Hossler

Age: 17 PGA Tour events: 0

World ranking: 856

Hossler has been to Congressional before, when he labored through local and sectional qualifying stages to reach last year’s U.S. Open. He was, admittedly, a bit overwhelmed by the surroundings. Those feelings were gone by the time he reached the first tee two weeks ago at the Olympic Club in San Francisco, and his second Open appearance was one of the best story lines of the week. The rising senior at Santa Margarita High in Orange County, Calif., somehow led the tournament midway through Friday’s round and ended up tied for 29th. That got him an invitation to Tiger’s tournament for his PGA Tour debut.

Jordan Spieth

Age: 18 PGA Tour starts: 6

World ranking: 716

Spieth just completed his freshman year at the University of Texas (where Hossler will join him in 2013), and he already has one of the most accomplished amateur careers in recent memory. He won both the 2009 and 2011 U.S. Junior Amateur titles, making him only the second player to win that tournament more than once. The other? Tiger Woods. At Texas, he was a first-team All-American, the Big 12 freshman of the year and led the Longhorns to the national championship. But golf fans may know him best for contending at the 2010 HP Byron Nelson Championship on his home course near Dallas.

Patrick Cantlay

Age: 20 PGA Tour starts: 8

World ranking: 426

Cantlay just completed his sophomore year at UCLA, and he turned professional two days later. But he has already made his name known on the PGA Tour. In 2011, he tied for 21st at the U.S. Open at Congressional. That led to invitations to play in the Travelers Championship the next week. His response: shooting a 60 in the second round (the lowest round ever by an amateur on the PGA Tour), leading the event at the midway point, when he shot 60 in the second round. He posted two other top-25 finishes on tour that summer, including tied for ninth at the Canadian Open. Now, he’s trying to make his first cut — and therefore earn his first check — as a pro .

Three in their prime
Jason Day

Age: 24 PGA Tour wins: 1

World ranking: 21

By this point, the most surprising thing about the Australian’s career is that he has only one victory. And by now, that win at the 2010 HP Byron Nelson Classic, seems long ago. His record at Congressional is interesting: He missed the cut in the AT&T National in both 2008 and 2009, but his final-round 68 made him the runner-up – albeit a distant runner-up – to Rory McIlroy at last year’s U.S. Open. The question going forward: Can Day translate his talent into victories on a consistent basis?

Dustin Johnson

Age: 28 PGA Tour wins: 6

World ranking: 13

Johnson is one of the most entertaining players to watch on tour, a prodigiously long hitter who is extremely athletic . His 2012 season, though, has been marred by injury. He had to withdraw before the Masters because he injured himself while lifting a Jet Ski – a story line that fit in with his laidback demeanor. The result: He missed 11 consecutive weeks on tour. But when he came back, his gifts were again apparent. He won his second start following the injury, at the FedEx St. Jude Classic. Though he missed the cut at the U.S. Open at Olympic, he is well worth watching here.

Hunter Mahan

Age: 30 PGA Tour wins: 5

World ranking: 10

By now firmly established as one of the best American players, Mahan also has some warm memories of this event. Forget his missed cut at the 2011 U.S. Open at Congressional. On the final day of the last AT&T National staged here, Mahan went out before the leaders and shot a closing 62, a score that put pressure on Tiger Woods, who eventually beat him by a stroke. Now, Mahan joins Woods (and Jason Dufner) as the only players to win twice on tour this year. His best win came in the Accenture World Match Play, in which he beat Rory McIlroy in the final.

Three seasoned vets
Angel Cabrera

Age: 42 PGA Tour wins: 2

World ranking: 190

The winner of the 2007 U.S. Open at Oakmont— where he beat, among others, Woods — and the 2009 Masters champ has all but fallen off a cliff. He missed the cut at the 2011 U.S. Open at Congressional, and that began a string of 22 events in which he either missed the cut or withdrew 12 times. The Argentinian has but two top-10 finishes in that time. Still, the player known as “El Pato” – the Duck – is enormously enjoyable to watch. He hits it far and plays quickly. He just needs to find his game again.

Jim Furyk

Age: 42 PGA Tour wins: 16

World ranking: 30

The solid, steady veteran is coming off perhaps the most disappointing result of his career at the U.S. Open, a tournament which he led headed to the final three holes. But the 2003 U.S. Open champ infamously pulled his driver well left at the par-5 16th, leading to a bogey, and he ended up tied for fourth. Still, his appearance here reflects his reliability. He loves Congressional — where his caddie, Mike “Fluff” Cowan — regularly plays. And he is now on a string of nine straight events in which he’s finished tied for 26th or better, including four top 10s.

Vijay Singh

Age: 49 PGA Tour wins: 34

World ranking: 91

Like him or not, the Fijian was one of the dominant players of his era, a former world No. 1 who contended with Woods as much as anyone. But the three-time major champion, who has played as frequently as anyone on tour over the past two decades, may now be feeling his age. His last victory came in the summer of 2008. He has one top-10 finish this year. He has made the cut in one of his past six majors. Still, he is one of golf’s most well-known names – even as he approaches eligibility for the Champions Tour. He turns 50 next Feburary.

Three best stories
Erik Compton

Age: 32 PGA Tour wins: 0

World ranking: 267

The Floridian’s story is nothing short of incredible. Born with a heart condition which prevented the muscle from properly pumping blood to the rest of his body, Compton had a heart transplant at age 12. He grew into a proficient golfer and played collegiately at the University of Georgia. That heart eventually wore out, and in 2008, at age 28, he had another transplant. Now on his third heart, he is still trying to forge his way as a professional golfer. Though he has struggled to compete consistently at golf’s highest level (no top-25s in 15 events this year), he has inspired everywhere.

J.B. Holmes

Age: 30 PGA Tour wins: 2

World ranking: 107

The Kentucky native, one of the heroes of the 2007 Ryder Cup team in his home state, is wildly talented, and his main struggle in his pro career had been consistency. Last August, he withdrew from the PGA Championship after an opening-round 80 because of vertigo-like symptoms. The result: He had brain surgery in September to relieve a condition that caused structural damage to his cerebellum. Somehow, he returned to the tour in January. Last week, he shot a 62 in the second round in Hartford. A third career victory would have a completely different flavor .

Billy Hurley III

Age: 30 PGA Tour wins: 0

World ranking: 439

The Tiger Woods Foundation always takes time to honor veterans at the AT&T National. Hurley is the only member of the field who could receive those plaudits. Born in Leesburg, the Annapolis resident graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 2004 and became a lieutenant. He served five years and traveled to the Persian Gulf. Now, his golf career has resumed. He earned his tour card by finishing in the top 25 on the Nationwide Tour in 2011, but he has made just five cuts in 17 events this season.

— Barry Svrluga

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