- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 29, 2017

The Quicken Loans National kicked off today at TPC Potomac, the first time the course has hosted a Tour event since 2006. Many players are seeing the golf course for the first time this week, and they didn’t hold back when expressing its difficulty.

“It’s hard. You could 100 percent host a U.S. Open here starting tomorrow,” Justin Thomas said.

Thomas, ranked 12th in the Official World Golf Ranking, finished in a tie for 9th in this year’s Open at Erin Hills after shooting a 9-under par 63 in the third round.

Low scores are often hard to come by in the Open. The Congressional Country Club, last year’s Quicken Loans National venue and 2011 U.S. Open host, yielded a winning score of 17-under par, but birdies are expected ti be much harder to come by this week.

“I’m having a hard time seeing double digits under par win,” Thomas said. “It’s real difficult. Firm greens changes everything.”

Thomas has played this event every year dating back to his rookie season of 2015, but the venue adds a new challenge to his preparation.

“It requires more work, for sure,” Thomas said. “There’s courses like last week I played as an amateur and I played twice others, so I didn’t really feel like I needed to go out there to see the course. The preparations a little bit easier when you’ve been there just because you don’t have to go out on the course, you don’t have to do your homework.”

Rickie Fowler, the highest ranked player in the field this week, will make hitting fairways his top priority.

“You have to hit the fairway to have a chance of doing anything,” Fowler said. “Even though it’s nice to see greens firm where the ball’s bouncing, you have to be spot on hitting your numbers. As long as we keep any moisture away, it doesn’t look like there’s any in the forecast, the tournament’s going to be won from tee to green.”

The PGA Tour has long been committed to helping charitable organizations as part of their events. This week, 14-time major champion Tiger Woods is the tournament host and the event benefits the Tiger Woods Foundation.

Woods has won this event twice — first in 2009 and again in 2012 — but he will not tee it up this week after undergoing back surgery in April. Woods is currently seeking treatment to help better manage his pain medication after he was arrested for DUI last month.

Woods’ presence is missed this week — he will not hand out the winner’s trophy as he has done in years past — but Thomas acknowledged that there are more important things than golf.

“It’s really cool to see what he’s doing in terms of handling what he’s dealing with and taking it seriously,” Thomas said. “I think as someone who looks up to him and as a friend, that’s more impressive than coming here. Obviously he cares a lot about this tournament, it’s his tournament and he wants to be here, but he’s worried about what’s best for him, best for his family.”

Patrick Reed, ranked 17th in the Official World Golf Ranking, noted that even though his colleagues on the PGA Tour compete fiercely for titles, everyone wants Woods back.

“We wish him all the best and we want him out here,” Reed said. “Every one of us, the players, people running golf tournaments, sponsors, everyone wants Tiger Woods out here. The more he can take care of himself, then we’re going to get the old Tiger back.”

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