Already one of the most difficult courses on the PGA Tour, Congressional Country Club can be downright wicked when it is starving. The only moisture it has seen in the past week arrived Wednesday night, and even then only in a flash, leaving its greens utterly famished and its rough twisting in anger.
The resulting pangs have drawn the attention of the players, whose offerings have not been out of charity. On Saturday, only 19 of the 75 players around for the third round of the Quicken Loans National went under par, with the 10 who entered the day atop the leaderboard shooting a woeful 34-over.
By nightfall, Patrick Reed held his perch, the only one of the four players who entered tied for first fortunate to do so. Even then, he remained at 6-under by shooting an even-par 71; the three others all lost strokes, some significantly, making a pursuit on Sunday much more difficult.
“What do you expect?” Reed said. “Congressional – it definitely showed its teeth today.”
The conditions affected Marc Leishman, who shot 2-over yet somehow managed to cling to a tie for second place. They especially affected Ricky Barnes and Oliver Goss, who went 4- and 5-over and tumbled back to the masses.
They even affected Reed, who expressed surprise after his round when he found out of all players, his distance to the hole, on average, has been the best of anyone playing in the tournament.
“I mean, I spent most of my time in the rough,” said Reed, who hit only six of 14 fairways on Saturday. “I just feel like I’m in a good pattern with my golf swing. I’m confident in what we’re doing and what we’re working on … and I feel like I’m really staying in the moment and not getting ahead of myself and not moving too fast.”
Several of the leaders understandably professed an affinity for the way the course has played. Seung-Yul Noh, whose round ended 18 minutes after the final pairing teed off, liked that he was able to use a full range of irons en route to a 5-under 66 – the low round of the day, and one that left him tied with Leishman and Freddie Jacobsen in second place.
So, too, did Justin Rose, whose run was undone by a double bogey on the par-4 11th and a closing bogey on the 18th. Rose, the champion in 2010 when the tournament was played in suburban Philadelphia, will enter Sunday as one of six players at 3-under, three strokes back.
“Bad shots – you couldn’t get away with much out there,” Rose said. “As we saw, our leaders didn’t do much this afternoon.”
By doing nothing, Reed did something. He birdied the par-4 4th when his second shot – a 9-iron that carried farther than he expected – rolled seven feet down the back of the green to stop inches from an eagle. He also birdied the par-5 16th when his approach landed three feet from the pin.
But he was also left with lies that forced him to aim away from the pin to save his score – such as on the par-3 7th, which he bogeyed when his tee shot went well off to the right near the paved cart path. He dropped his next shot well past the flag, then had to two-putt from 55 feet.
Ranked No. 9 in FedEx Cup points, Reed has won the previous three tournaments in which he held the 54-hole lead – including two this season. In the event’s previous seven years, four players have taken home the trophy after entering the final round.
Somehow, some way, the course won’t win on Sunday.
“You can’t get ahead of yourself,” Reed said. “If you think about having the lead, or if you think about what you’re going to do coming down 18, you’re going to lose focus on the rest of the holes. I’m just going to go on the same mindset I had all week and basically, always, one shot at a time.”