- The Washington Times - Friday, June 10, 2005

Prestigious change of venue. … Phenomenal star-stacked field. … Same old forgettable leader board.

Congressional didn’t play much like a stingy major beast yesterday. In fact, the field put a pretty thorough thrashing on Old Black and Blue in the opening round of the Booz Allen Classic, resulting in the same off-brand list of protagonists that came to define the event at nearby TPC at Avenel.

Six-year tour veteran Matt Gogel paced the low-profile assault on the high-profile layout, carding a course-record 63 in one of the day’s opening threesomes to etch his name into Congressional lore.

“No matter where we play, somebody always gets out with a low round,” said Gogel, 34, who leads Sweden’s Fredrik Jacobson, England’s Lee Westwood and journeyman Brett Wetterich by three strokes after clipping the Old Blue course record by a shot. “There’s 156 players in the field, and everybody’s capable of shooting a low round. It happened to be my day.”

It was Gogel’s first such day this season. The Kansas City, Mo., resident has basically built a career out of two successful weeks on the Monterey Peninsula, finishing second to Tiger Woods at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am in 2000 and collecting his lone tour victory two years later at the same event. Aside from those two turns in the spotlight, Gogel had been a solid if unspectacular player heading into this season.

Enter the evil midcareer slump. For the first time, the Kansas graduate had trouble making cuts. Gogel arrived at Congressional having made just four in his 13 starts this season. Gone were the occasional top-15s that were his card-securing stock-and-trade. And a month ago at the Wachovia Championship, Gogel missed his sixth cut in seven starts, losing what was left of his waning confidence.

He dumped his sticks for a new set of Pings, the brand that carried him early in his career. He narrowly missed the cut the next week at the Byron Nelson. And two weeks ago, he returned to contention at the St. Jude Classic, opening 66-68 en route to a tie for 24th that restored his faith in his game.

“Obviously, self-doubt comes in,” Gogel said. “To get off to a start this year where I was missing cuts, it’s brutal on your confidence. You know, I’m getting older. You’re watching young guys come in blowing it by you, hitting the ball 330 yards, and you say, ‘Man, what is my future?’ But I feel like I turned the page a month ago at the Byron Nelson.”

Based on yesterday’s bogey-free brilliance on the 7,232-yard, par-71 course, it certainly appears that way.

Gogel victimized Congressional’s soft fairways and greens, attacking accessible pins and collecting eight birdies on his way to bettering the scoring mark held jointly by Tommy Jacobs (1964 U.S. Open), George Burns (1983 Kemper Open) and Fred Couples (1986 Kemper Open). Interestingly, none of those players parlayed the record round into a victory.

And though only one of the 11 players within four shots of Gogel has more than one PGA Tour victory (Jim Furyk, with nine, at 4 under), few would expect this first-round rabbit to claim the crown given the imposing list of lurkers at par or better with 54 holes left.

“It is an unusual leader board because perhaps bigger names were expected,” said Jacobson, a proven player on the European Tour who is still seeking his first victory on U.S. soil. “But that’s Thursday for you. Take another look on Sunday.”

Though the leader board is decidedly light at the top, few of the favorites actually played their way out of the tournament yesterday.

All four members of the Fab Five in attendance are still in contention, with South Africans Ernie Els (2 under) and Retief Goosen (70) lining up just ahead of world No. 1 Vijay Singh (71) and No. 4 Phil Mickelson (71). Defending champion and top-10 shooting star Adam Scott rebounded from an opening double bogey to post a 68. And a handful of other major champions, such as ageless Tom Kite (68), Davis Love III (69), Justin Leonard (69), Mark Calcavecchia (69) and Mark O’Meara (70), also posted red-figure salvos.

All told, 47 players carded sub-par scores on Old Blue before storms moved into the area shortly before 6 p.m., forcing the suspension of play and leaving 42 players with opening-round work to complete.

Among the marquee players halted by the suspension, Els was on the 18th tee at 2 under, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia lacks just a 2-foot par putt for an opening 71.

Like the other 40 players with unfinished business, Els and Garcia will return to the layout for a restart at 7 this morning. But thanks to the customary PGA Tour tee-time stagger, second-round play should be unaffected by the suspension and is slated to start at 7 as originally scheduled.

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