The last time a U.S. Open was played at Congressional the golf world was being taken over by a young Tiger Woods and the toughest test in golf ended on a par 3. Fast forward to 2011 and Woods in injured yet again and the golf course has been changed to take advantage of a very tough back 9 and will be finished on a par 4 after changes were made by course architect Rees Jones.
This past four Major winners have all been by a first-time winner and the last 10 overall Majors all have had different winners. The days when Tiger, Phil, and the top names of the game winning have changed. Golfers today have become more fit and ready to win than in any era of the game's history. Young players don't fear winning and veterans have learned how to use their experience as an advantage. With that being said, this could be the most wide open field in the history of the U.S. Open, there are many players that could win this week and handicapping the field is nearly impossible.
Congressional has over gone some changes for this year's championship and the most noticeable is that the 17th hole, which will now be played as the closing hole at this year's U.S. Open. The former 18th hole will now be played as the tenth hole on the course and the USGA made a radical change as they have added a tee box to the sixth hole and it will now be played as a par 5.
The course can be stretched to 7,568 yards with five new tee boxes added and will be played as a par 71, compared to the par 70 it has played in the past. Congressional has played host to PGA events over the last few years, but the new tees were not used and the routing will make the course look and play differently than the players are used to.
The 1997 tournament was decided on the 17th hole as Tom Lehman over hooked his approach shot and it found the water that surrounds the green. That shot gave Ernie Els his second U.S. Open title in a four-year span and made him one of the top players in the world at that time.
Thursday will mark the first round of play for the 156 players in the field and of course the biggest name not in this years field is Tiger Woods. Phil Mickelson is playing and the course could be a good fit for his risky style of play, but there are several others who have a good shot this week. Steve Stricker is playing the most consistent this year and has come close to winning a Major on a couple recent occasions. Matt Kuchar is playing the best golf of his life and could be ready to break through for his first Major title.
There are several foreign-born players that could also contend this week and Lee Westwood has to be the favorite from this group. Westwood has challenged repeatedly over the last few years and could make another run at Congressional. Luke Donald took over the number one spot in the world for a short time this year and has a game that is very steady, if he can find enough fairways this week, he could be hoisting a trophy on Sunday.
As with any U.S. Open, it will be a test of not only skill, but of how a player manages the mental side of the game. With narrowed fairways and rock hard greens, this tournament has taken its toll on the best players over the years and the winner on Sunday will not only have to play well, but also control his emotions over 72 grueling holes.