Barker Davis of The Washington Times makes his picks for players to watch at this week’s inaugural AT&T; National, which begins today at Congressional Country Club (7,204 yards, par 70):
Jim Furyk — At a PGA Tour event expected to behave quite a bit like a major, golf’s quintessential grinder is likely to spend most of the week on the big board. Furyk finished tied for fifth at the 1997 U.S. Open at Congressional and has the perfect fairways-and-greens game for an event in which the winner isn’t likely to crack double digits in the red.
Jerry Kelly — One of the game’s most consistent players off the tee, Kelly enters this week’s fray off consecutive strong finishes (tied for seventh at U.S. Open and tied for 15th at Travelers). The consummate meat-and-potatoes player, Kelly is a solid pick to make some noise, but he might not have the putting stroke to reach the winner’s circle.
Davis Love III — Among those players in the field who made the cut in both the 1997 U.S. Open and 2005 Booz Allen Classic, Love boasts the best combined scoring average on Old Blue (69.63). The 43-year-old stalwart is having a rather quiet season (just two top-10 finishes), but it’s hard to count him out on a traditional track, particularly when there’s no major stress involved.
Jamie Lovemark — Sure, the 19-year-old amateur from Southern Cal seems a serious long shot, but that’s probably what folks thought when he showed up a month ago for his first career Nationwide Tour start and nearly walked away with the winner’s crystal, losing to Chris Riley in a playoff. Make no mistake, the NCAA individual champion and player of the year isn’t just a Trojan horse; he’s a future pro stallion.
Hunter Mahan — Just two weeks after collecting his first PGA Tour title, Mahan rolls into the AT&T; National with a game well-matched to Congressional’s requirements. He’s long and straight off the tee, a necessity this week, and riding the crest of his Travelers victory wave.
Phil Mickelson — Lefty is making his first start since missing the cut at Oakmont (U.S. Open) courtesy of a gimpy wrist and his chronically suspect constitution. Given the rust and his admittedly substandard joint, Mickelson makes this list more out of respect than reality.
Sean O’Hair — One of five young stars built like 1-irons on the list, the 24-year-old O’Hair ranked second on the PGA Tour in total driving, a statistic combining distance and accuracy. He has been flirting with victory all season (six top 15s).
Justin Rose — Expect the young Brit to push Woods all week at Congressional. Rose is solid off the tee, thrives in high-profile settings (top 10s in both of the season’s majors) and rolls into this tournament with a field-best streak of five consecutive top-10 finishes. He’s overdue to notch his breakout victory on U.S. soil.
Adam Scott — The 26-year-old Aussie might be the game’s best pure ball-striker, and he finished tied for second behind Sergio Garcia at Congressional in the 2005 Booz Allen Classic. Some questions remain about his ability to close tournaments. But nobody questions his technical ability.
Tiger Woods — If the host plays as seamlessly as he did during his two days of practice at Congressional, the rest of the field will be swinging for silver this week. Papa Woods certainly has shown no sign of rust after his two weeks of diaper duty, and a victory dedicated to Sam Alexis could be in the offing.