Fowler now top draw in Woods’ ab­sence

Quicken Loans Na­tional presses on with­out host

The Washington Times Daily - - SPORTS - BY BEN NUCKOLS

PO­TOMAC, MD. | Tiger Woods’ ex­tended ab­sence from golf isn’t be­ing felt just on the course.

Woods can bring ex­cite­ment to a tour­na­ment even if he isn’t play­ing, as he’s shown over the years at the Quicken Loans Na­tional, which he hosts. This year, Woods will miss the tro­phy pre­sen­ta­tions at both of the PGA Tour events that ben­e­fit his foun­da­tion.

He skipped the Ge­n­e­sis Open at Riviera in Fe­bru­ary be­cause of his in­jured back, and now he’s be­ing treated at a clinic for his use of pre­scrip­tion drugs. The stint in treat­ment fol­lows his ar­rest on a DUI charge in May dur­ing which he had sev­eral med­i­ca­tions, but no al­co­hol, in his sys­tem, ac­cord­ing to po­lice in Jupiter, Florida.

The Quicken Loans Na­tional is do­ing its best to press on with­out him, but the buzz sur­round­ing the event — which this year comes to TPC Po­tomac for the first time — has faded.

“We all would love for him to be here, but at the end of the day, for him to put his foot down and go ahead and take care of him­self and try to get bet­ter, that’s more im­por­tant than play­ing golf or be­ing here for a golf tour­na­ment,” Pa­trick Reed said. “We all wish him the best and we want him out here, ev­ery one of us.”

Rickie Fowler, who has an en­dorse­ment deal with Quicken Loans, is the only player from the world’s top 10 in the field, and just two more are in­side the top 20: Justin Thomas and Reed.

Fowler, one of the top draws in golf, has bro­ken his fans’ hearts plenty this

year. He won the Honda Clas­sic in Fe­bru­ary but hasn’t shot bet­ter than 70 in a fi­nal round since March, wast­ing chances to win the Masters and the U.S. Open. He said he’s caught him­self try­ing too hard.

“There’s prob­a­bly been a few times where it hasn’t been ex­actly ei­ther the right mind­set or po­ten­tially get­ting be­hind the eight ball early and push­ing a lit­tle bit too much from there,” Fowler said, “in­stead of kind of let­ting things fall into place.”

This is the 11th edi­tion of the Quicken Loans Na­tional, which launched with great fan­fare in 2007. With Woods as the host, a field lim­ited to 120 play­ers and a sto­ried Wash­ing­ton-area venue in Con­gres­sional Coun­try Club, the event seemed des­tined to be­come a stand­out on the PGA Tour. It didn’t hurt that Woods pre­sented the tro­phy to him­self twice, in 2009 and 2012.

But re­al­ity even­tu­ally set in. With Con­gres­sional ei­ther un­able or un­will­ing to host ev­ery year, the tour­na­ment has bounced among sev­eral cour­ses. And its spot on the cal­en­dar — be­tween the U.S. and Bri­tish Opens — has caused many play­ers to skip the event, ei­ther to rest be­tween ma­jors or to play in Europe.

Young Span­ish star Jon Rahm got a spon­sor’s ex­emp­tion to make his pro de­but last year at Con­gres­sional and tied for third. He’s not here this week, in­stead opt­ing to play the French Open at the course that will host next year’s Ry­der Cup.

More than 100 play­ers in the field have not yet qual­i­fied for the Bri­tish Open, but that could change this week. The top four nonex­empt play­ers who fin­ish among the top 12 will earn spots at Royal Birk­dale.

TPC Po­tomac, a PGA Tour-owned property across the street from Con­gres­sional, last hosted a tour event in 2006. Play­ers crit­i­cized the de­sign and the con­di­tion­ing when the tour first came to the course, then known as TPC Avenel, in the 1980s, with Greg Nor­man fa­mously say­ing he wanted to “blow up” the 9th hole.

Fol­low­ing a ma­jor ren­o­va­tion and re­design from 2007-09, TPC Po­tomac has wel­comed the PGA Tour Cham­pi­ons once and the Web.com Tour twice.

This week, the con­di­tion­ing ap­pears su­perb, with tight bent­grass fair­ways, thick rough and firm, bouncy greens. With lit­tle to no rain in the fore­cast, play­ers are ex­pect­ing a dif­fi­cult week on the par-70 lay­out.

“It’s hard. You could 100 per­cent host a U.S. Open here, start­ing to­mor­row,” Thomas said. “It’s not very of­ten we play greens this firm on tour, other than ma­jors.”

De­fend­ing cham­pion Billy Hur­ley III, a Wash­ing­ton-area na­tive and Naval Acad­emy grad­u­ate who lives in An­napo­lis, has per­haps more lo­cal knowl­edge at TPC Po­tomac than any­one in the field, and it’s not even his first choice.

“We cer­tainly wish it was at Con­gres­sional be­cause I fin­ished first, fourth and eighth there, so there are cour­ses for cer­tain play­ers and that’s one of mine,” Hur­ley said. “But this is a fa­mil­iar place to me. I do prac­tice and play out here when I’m home a good bit.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Rickie Fowler, who has an en­dorse­ment deal with the ti­tle spon­sor, is the only player from the world’s top 10 in the Quicken Loans Na­tional this week at TPC Po­tomac.

Woods

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