BETHESDA, Md. (AP) — Jason Day took last week off to recharge after his bold bid in the U.S. Open.
He feels like he’s getting ready to play another.
Congressional is home for at least two more years to the AT&T National, though the Blue Course remains known for the four major championships it has hosted, most recently the 2011 U.S. Open that Rory McIlroy won with a record score on a soft course. Day was the runner-up that year, the winner of the B-flight, eight shots behind.
“This course — I played it this morning — it kind of feels like a U.S. Open again,” Day said. “It’s got some length to it, and the rough is pretty dense out there. I think they cut the rough around 3½ inches, which is not as long as the U.S. Open, but still the volume of the grass … there’s still a lot there. Hitting fairways is crucial this week, and then, obviously, short game around the greens is very big, as well.”
This isn’t a complaint from the 25-year-old Australian. This is anticipation.
Day lately has been playing some of his best golf in the toughest conditions. In the last three years, he twice finished two shots behind in the Masters. He added another silver medal from the U.S. Open at Merion, only this time he really had a chance. His 12-foot par save on the 17th hole kept him one shot behind, but he failed to get up-and-down from a bunker on the 18th hole and wound up two shots behind Justin Rose.
“For Jason, he’s knocking on the door every major, it seems,” Masters champion Adam Scott said. “He’s kind of got the major game look.”
What he doesn’t have is a lot of trophies.
Day is in his sixth year on the PGA Tour, and his lone victory remains the Byron Nelson Championship in 2010. He has coped with a variety of injuries, the birth of his son and other issues that have slowed his progress.
Even so, he feels he gets more confidence from close calls in the majors than he did from that one PGA Tour title.
“Just knowing that I can play against the best players in the world with everyone watching around the world,” Day said. “The biggest events of the year, knowing that I can step up and can play against those guys and hit the shots at the right time, it brings a lot of confidence to my game that the little things that I’ve been doing in the off weeks and everything that I’ve been doing in the offseason is paying off.”
The AT&T National gets under way on Thursday, with Day in the all-Australian group of Scott and Marc Leishman.
The tournament already has lost host Tiger Woods because of an elbow injury and Justin Rose because he was wiped out from winning the U.S. Open and then playing the following week in Hartford, Conn.
It still has a good field with Scott, Day, Brandt Snedeker, Hunter Mahan and Rickie Fowler leading the way.
Woods won a year ago in a wild week that featured extreme heat, a bizarre storm that toppled trees across the golf course and kept fans from attending on Saturday, and a late surge to get past Bo Van Pelt for a two-shot win at 8-under 276.
Only five other tournaments had a higher winning score last year, a list that includes the Masters and U.S. Open.
“Congressional can stand on its own two feet,” Van Pelt said. “If you’d have played here two weeks ago, you probably could have had a U.S. Open if you wanted to. You know that coming in, and guys either like that and want to come play here, or they take this week off.”
Woods is not taking this week off by choice. He hurt his left elbow a month ago, and doctors have advised rest and treatment to allow it to heal before the next two majors. Even so, the world’s No. 1 player didn’t want to miss out on defending his title on a course that has shown to identify some stout players.
“It’s frustrating for me because I want to play, and I know how the golf course is set up right now, too, and I like the setup of it,” Woods said. “The years that it’s set up this way, I’ve done well.”
It’s the kind of test that Day did not want to miss. Asked if he preferred the harder courses, Day’s eyes lit up and he said, “Tough, yes.”
“Just takes out the riff-raff, I guess,” he said.
It was a reference to games, not names. This is not a place where players can get by without their best stuff.
Scott won the now-defunct Booz Allen Classic the one year it was held at Congressional. Since the AT&T National began in 2007, the list of winners is K.J. Choi, Anthony Kim and Woods the last two times.
Scott said Congressional was the primary reason he put the AT&T on his limited schedule. Now he hopes to see something good come out of the week.
“This is the time of the year where I play, and I need to be ready and play myself into form,” Scott said. “Especially after the U.S. Open, I feel a result is needed, just some kind of result to keep the confidence high and move over to Europe feeling like I’m ready to compete. I want to contend. It’s been since the Masters that I’ve really been in contention. So getting those feelings would be nice again.”