Monday, July 2, 2007

Stuart Appleby

One of the first close friends Tiger made on tour, the 36-year-old Australian is an excellent ball-striker with eight PGA Tour victories to his credit. The second win of his career came at the 1998 Kemper Open at TPC at Avenel.

Angel Cabrera

The longest regular on the European Tour, the Argentine instantly vaulted to elite status by holding off Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk at last month’s U.S. Open to earn South America its first major since 1967 (Roberto de Vicenzo at British Open). Cabrera averaged a mammoth 310.9 yards off the tee at Oakmont.

K.J. Choi

The first Korean to win on the PGA Tour, Choi was a weightlifting champion and the son of a rice farmer on the island of Wando before taking up golf at the age of 16. Choi celebrated his fifth PGA Tour victory earlier this season at Jack Nicklaus’ Memorial Tournament.

Darren Clarke

Tiger and the Ulsterman met through their dual association with Butch Harmon, Woods’ former swing coach. And Clarke’s mischievous nature and fearless edge endeared him to Woods, whom he beat in the final of the 2000 World Match Play Championship.

The streaky Clarke has struggled mightily in 2007, posting only one top-20 finish in more than a dozen starts on both sides of the Atlantic.

Fred Funk

The former Maryland golf coach is an ageless local favorite who collected his eighth PGA Tour victory earlier this season at the inaugural Mayakoba Classic in Cancun. One of the most accurate hitters in the game’s history, Funk finished seven seasons leading the PGA Tour in driving accuracy.

It’s always been the 51-year-old’s dream to win at home, a dream he came closest to realizing when he led entering Sunday play before finishing T3 at the 1998 Kemper Open.

Jim Furyk

Long heralded as one of the grittiest players in the game, Furyk narrowly missed adding a second U.S. Open title (2003) to his collection last month at Oakmont. Furyk, with his indefatigable style, meshes well with this week’s host: He is Tiger’s preferred teammate in match-play events (Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup).

The more Congressional plays like a U.S. Open track this week, the better Furyk’s chances of victory.

Charles Howell III

A college prodigy much like Woods, Howell crushed the competition at the 2000 NCAA Championship, winning the individual title by eight strokes and carrying Oklahoma State to the team title. Earlier this season at the Nissan Open, the PGA Tour’s Thin Man snapped an extended victory drought.

Pablo Martin

Next in the lineage of great Spanish players, the 21-year-old Martin stunned the golf world three months ago by becoming the first amateur to win a European Tour event (Portuguese Open). Turned pro immediately after last month’s NCAA Championship and joined the Nike staff.

Phil Mickelson

A surprise late addition to the field, Lefty will be using the AT&T National as part of his two-week run-up to the British Open.

All eyes will be on Mickelson’s left wrist. The injury obviously bothered him significantly during his struggles at last month’s U.S. Open, where he missed the cut in his last start. Lefty finished T29 at Congressional in the 2005 Booz Allen Classic.

Geoff Ogilvy

Perhaps the game’s most intellectual superstar, the 30-year-old Australian spends much of his free time augmenting his massive library at the nearest available bookstore.

Ogilvy’s most notable victory came via meltdowns from Phil Mickelson and Colin Montgomerie at the 2006 U.S. Open at Winged Foot, but few feel the major ledger is closed for the talented Aussie.

Justin Rose

The angular Brit turned pro after his shocking T4 finish as a 17-year-old at the 1998 British Open (Birkdale). Predictably struggled after that early decision but has since begun to fulfill immense expectations, collecting three European Tour victories and recording top-10 finishes at both of the season’s first two majors (T5 Masters and T10 U.S. Open).

Adam Scott

Perhaps just behind Tiger in terms of raw talent, the 26-year-old Australian is defined by what is universally regarded as golf’s finest swing. Scott is a tee-to-green dynamo just waiting for his short game and mental approach to catch up with his extraordinary ball-striking skills.

Scott boasts 10 combined victories on the PGA and European Tours and finished second to Sergio Garcia at the 2005 Booz Allen Classic at Congressional.

Vijay Singh

One of the game’s most consistent forces over the last decade, the 44-year-old Fijian has stuffed his resume with three major titles and 31 PGA Tour victories, 80 percent of those uprisings coming after his 35th birthday. Already a member of Golf’s Hall of Fame, few players have ever been better from tee-to-green than the ball-beating Singh.

Bubba Watson

The huge-hitting lefty from Bagdad, Fla., has become a protg of sorts for Tiger, accompanying Woods on many of his recent early morning practice rounds in an attempt to pick his brain.

Watson has a Dalyesque combination of length and touch, but his temper and course management issues have thus far kept him from notching a breakout PGA Tour victory.

Tiger Woods

Between his duties as tournament host and his role as a newly minted father, golf’s 31-year-old goliath might not be in his sharpest playing shape at Congressional.

Woods finished T19 in the 1997 U.S. Open on Old Blue, but he was a far bolder, more error-prone player back then. The 12-time major champion obviously is the favorite every time he tees it up. But it will be interesting to see how Papa Woods plays this week amid all the distractions.

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