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Congressional investigation

By this Thursday, the NBA and NHL will both be done for a while. So everything clears out in time for the best four golf days of the year.

For its 111th edition, the United States Open goes to Congressional Country Club, hard by the Potomac River and next to the nation's capital. Feel free to insert your own political jokes wherever appropriate, or not.

And I'm sure a fair amount of you will not watch this particular Open because Tiger Woods is sitting it out. Well, even Tiger knew that he was too hurt to play. It made no sense for him to show up, limping, with no chance to even contend, much less win.

So with the main attraction out, why bother tuning in? Well, because it's the U.S. Open, our national championship, and no matter who contends or who prevails, the stories are plentiful, starting with the venue.

Congressional has only hosted two U.S. Opens and one PGA Championship, but they were pretty unique. Ken Venturi suffering through the 36-hole finale in 1964 helped persuade the USGA to (wisely) go to four rounds in four days a year later. Rain at the '76 PGA led organizers to improvise a sudden-death playoff, the first in major history, had Dave Stockton not won in regulation.

When the Open returned in '97, they decided to play Congressional as is, with the 18th hole a par-3 over water, rather than the more dramatic (and more difficult) 17th, as in tournaments past. No one was totally satisfied, except perhaps champion Ernie Els.

So when Tiger's new tournament, the AT&T National, went to Congressional and the Open was awarded for 2011, course doctor Rees Jones arrived to give everyone the ending they wanted.

The solution was to turn the 18th into the 10th, and reverse the tee and green locations, and then play the rest of the course as is. This means the final hole is now a 523-yard, downhill classic, with the added length restoring a long to mid-iron second shot into that peninsula green jutting out into the pond. A tough and true closing hole, just as the USGA wants.

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