- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 8, 2005

Leave it to Congressional Country Club to assemble a high-profile caucus.

One of the best fields of the PGA Tour season has descended on the Beltway for this week’s Booz Allen Classic, which starts tomorrow at the Bethesda club and features eight of the top 10 golfers in the world.

This week’s five-star gathering stands in stark contrast to last year’s event, which was held at customary Booz Allen site TPC at Avenel and failed to lure a single top-10 talent. This year’s staggering disparity in field strength is largely because the change of venue.

Asked to comment on the similarities between Congressional, which will hold its fourth professional major in 2011 (U.S. Open), and oft-criticized Avenel, two-time U.S. Open champion Ernie Els deadpanned, “Well, they’re both in Washington.”

Els, who won the 1997 U.S. Open in golf’s last visit to Congressional and the club’s venerable Old Blue course, is one of many elite players who simply prefer Congressional’s traditional feel and tree-lined mystique to Avenel or any of the PGA Tour’s other Tournament Players Clubs.

“TPCs are more fan-friendly, and there are more birdies to be made at Avenel, and some players prefer that style of course,” Els said diplomatically. “This one here is an old-style beast. It demands patience, pays homage to par and has a feel that is more my style.”

Major renovations to Avenel are in the offing, with construction tentatively set to begin after next year’s event, which will be back at Avenel. And like last year’s event, the 2006 Booz Allen also will fall the week after the U.S. Open.

Scheduling also plays a major role in determining field strength. And this year’s date, immediately preceding the U.S. Open at Pinehurst, N.C., also played a role in securing this week’s stellar field.

Not only does Washington’s close proximity to Pinehurst make attending the Booz Allen a logistical simplicity for the world’s top golfers, a sequence of loops around a once-and-future Open site like Congressional should provide the perfect Pinehurst primer.

“There’s a reason they’ve chosen this course to host numerous Opens,” Booz Allen defending champion Adam Scott said yesterday. “It’s a championship golf course, and it should be an ideal walk-up to the Open. Even if Pinehurst is a somewhat different style of course with somewhat different demands, both are championship-caliber golf courses that really get you thinking, and that’s what I like. I think that’s why you have such a tremendous field this week.”

Among the world’s top 10, only No.2 Tiger Woods, who has never played the week before a major, and No.10 David Toms will not be in attendance. Still, this season’s results have provided considerable evidence that high-profile fields don’t necessarily guarantee a name champion.

Last month’s Byron Nelson Championship, which featured the first post-Masters reunion of golf’s Fab Five (No.1 Vijay Singh, Woods, Els, No.4 Phil Mickelson and No.5 Retief Goosen), was won by first-time PGA Tour winner Ted Purdy. And last week’s Memorial Tournament, which boasted the same stellar cast less Mickelson, fell to aging journeyman Bart Bryant.

“I think this field and this course will produce a deserving champion,” Scott said. “A star player isn’t guaranteed to win every week, but this week certainly has a better chance than most.”

The 24-year-old defending champion is certainly on the short list of favorites both this week and next. Scott is a four-time PGA Tour winner with a flawless swing and a brilliant tee-to-green game. But given his station as the world’s No.8 player, his most attractive attribute might well be his astounding humility.

Scott doesn’t seem the least bit rankled that nearly all of this week’s pre-tournament attention has been focused on the four members of the Fab Five in attendance.

“That’s absolutely fine, because I don’t consider myself in that league,” he said. “I’m a few majors and a lot of world rankings points short. I’d like to eventually get to that level. That’s the plan, the goal. But I’m quite happy to sit back, play my game and wait for my career to unfold as it will.”

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