With only eight events left before the FedExCup Playoffs begin, the PGA Tour makes its lone stop in the nation’s capital this week for the Quicken Loans National. The National is the fifth and final tournament this season with invitational status and consequently, a smaller field will consist of only 120 players. TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm plays host for the second consecutive year after being sidelined on the Tour schedule since 2006 but received rave reviews last season. Here are five things you need to know about the 12th version of the National.
Inside the Field
Highlighted by tournament host and 2009 and 2012 champion Tiger Woods, the National boasts six former champions and five winners on Tour this season. World No. 8 Rickie Fowler headlines the top-ranked players in the field, including No. 15 Francesco Molinari and No. 16 Marc Leishman. Notable major champions teeing it up include 2006 U.S. Open winner Geoff Ogilvy, 2009 Open Championship winner Stewart Cink, and 2016 PGA Championship winner Jimmy Walker. Defending champion Kyle Stanley, 2017 U.S. Amateur champion Doc Redman, and 2014 FedEx Cup champion Billy Horschel round out other notables in the field.
Beast of the Beltway
TPC Potomac was dubbed “Beast of the Beltway” last year and the par-70, 7,107-yard track wound up playing as the toughest non-major course all year (only Augusta National was more difficult). The 470-yard, par-4, 11th hole was the toughest par 4 on Tour with hazards lining the entire left side of the hole. A deep but narrow green creates some incredibly challenging angles on approach.
The closing stretch on holes 16 through 18 was the fifth-toughest finishing stretch on Tour. Areas of the 16th fairway on this relatively short 412-yard, par-4 hole will leave you with an awkward downhill lie to an uphill green. On the 190-yard, par-3, No. 17 the green is angled away from you to a downhill putting surface and usually plays one club less than yardage. While the brawny 465-yard, par-4, 18th hole features a wide fairway to take a rip off the tee, but once you’re on the putting surface the green is devious with very subtle and difficult to read breaks.
Big Week for the Big Cat
The last time we saw Tiger Woods he was slapping balls all over Shinnecock Hills at the U.S. Open and screaming putts every which way on the greens. Tiger’s early exit suggests he’s still not ready to contend at a major, however, this week could be Woods’ best shot so far to win a tournament again. Tiger is competing against the weakest field of his 11 starts this season. Preparation and rhythm will be different of course, as Woods plays TPC Potomac for the first time and the demands of various host duties will take up time. Although, these could be blessings in disguise that serve to sharpen Woods’ innate ability to focus. The National is Tiger’s last start before descending on Carnoustie for The Open Championship. It also might be the last start that finally pushes Woods past the barrier of not having won since 2013.
The Biggest Winner?
Kyle Stanley won his second career title here last year, but the National’s biggest winner might have been TPC Potomac. Prior to last year’s event, the course was mocked, ridiculed, and despised for its deteriorating conditions and questionable architecture. Davis Love III once said of the course, “it would be fine if you didn’t have to drive past Congressional Country Club (a mile away) to get to it.” Despite once hosting the Kemper Open, FBR Capital Open, and Booz Allen Classic, TPC Potomac was maligned as unfit to host a Tour event – until last year’s strong showing flipped the script.
Thirty-million dollars of wholesale redesign and rebuild later, TPC Potomac received universal acclaim after the National last year. Gone is the 9th hole that Greg Norman suggested should be “blown up with dynamite.” In its place: a 201-yard, par-3 where it’s possible to judge the winds that swirl in the ravine below. Hole Nos. 10 and 11 (once dubbed “Glub Glub Corner” because of its standing water) were combined into an exciting 560-yard, par-5, No. 10 that challenges you off the tee and on approach with menacing wetlands. TPC Potomac is now a tight, mean, last-man-standing test of golf that requires a complete player to win.
Motor City Bound
For all it overcame last year, it still looks like a case of too-little, too-late for TPC Potomac. Thanks to a long-term agreement between the PGA Tour and Quicken Loans, the National is heading to Michigan in 2019 – marking the first time since the 2009 Buick Open that the Motor City has hosted a Tour event. The historic Donald Ross-designed Detroit Golf Club is the expected host venue. While this is fantastic news for Michigan – one of the premier golf destinations with some of the finest courses in the country, you can’t help but feel bad for TPC Potomac. Last year’s huge victory should have counted for more, and Washington’s supportive golf fans and town deserve better.
Sooner or later Tiger Woods is going to put all that “can Tiger ever win again” screeching to bed, and this is the week you can give all those yahoos their bedtime bottle. The bad news for Woods is you have to keep it in the fairways on TPC Potomac and he’s ranked 184th on Tour in Driving Accuracy. The good news, however, is you don’t have to hit a lot of driver and have options off the tee. Woods is ranked 4th on Tour in Strokes Gained: Approach the Green, and that’s going to be a huge advantage with TPC Potomac’s greens firm and tough to hold. The winless streak has gone on long enough – Tiger. Woods. Y’all!