By Sam McPherson
The PGA Tour has had many first-time winners this year. And perhaps it should have been expected again just one week after the U.S. Open, when many Tour stars and veterans took the week off to start preparing for the British Open in July. However, none of this should detract from Billy Hurley III’s accomplishment at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Maryland.
Hurley won the Quicken Loans National, shooting a 69 on Sunday and posting a 17-under par for the tournament to beat Hall of Famer Vijay Singh by three strokes. It is the Navel Academy graduate and former Navel officer’s first win on the PGA Tour.
With Father’s Day barely in the rearview mirror, he was a sentimental favorite down the stretch on Sunday. Hurley’s father passed away under unfortunate circumstances in the last year. So when Hurley made birdies on both the 15th and the 16th holes of Sunday’s final round, the final two holes became an emotional journey, ending with a $1.242 million winner’s check. Hurley can now also prepare for the British Open if he likes, as the win carries an automatic berth into next month’s tournament at Royal Troon in Scotland.
Singh closed hard with a Sunday-best round of 65 to finish alone in second at 14-under. Meanwhile, Bill Haas and Jon Rahm tied for third at 13-under par, and Ernie Els — another multiple-major winner — finished in fifth at 12-under for the tournament. Holding off legends like Els and Singh on Sunday surely ranks among the shining moments of Hurley’s 104-tournament career to date on the PGA Tour.
Clearly, the old guys still have it. Singh is 53 years old, but the 2000 Masters champion shot over 79 percent of greens in regulation this week, tied for fifth best in the tournament. Els led all golfers in putting average, taking just over 1.5 putts per hole over the course of four rounds at Congressional.
The young guys showed promise as well. Rahm, at just 21 years old, put together an impressive statistical performance. In addition to finishing third overall in the tournament, Rahm also finished fourth in driving distance (308.2 yards) and in putting average (1.64). This was the first tournament as a professional golfer for the low amateur at the U.S. Open. Golf analysts and experts expect big things from the young Spaniard going forward.
But for now, the spotlight remains on Hurley’s win. He missed the cut at Oakmont, and his best finish this year on the Tour had been a tie for 41st at the AT&T Byron Nelson a month ago. Hurley had missed six cuts overall this season, but now he has this win at Congressional to build on going into the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.
Next On The Tee: WGC-Bridgestone Invitational
With a $9.5 million purse and $1.62 million going to the winner, the Bridgestone WGC event is one of the brighter “non-major” jewels of the PGA Tour season. Played on the South course at the Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio, this tournament has been won by the likes of Tiger Woods (eight times), Rory McIlroy and Singh since its inception in 1999. Shane Lowry is the defending champion, after posting a two-shot win over Bubba Watson last year, with a 269 overall total.
Woods holds the tournament record at 21-under (259), set back in 2000 when he was at the height of his game. This year’s field for the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational includes the world’s top-three golfers: Jason Day, Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson. No. 4 McIlroy will not be playing, and neither will No. 5 Henrik Stenson. Overall, seven of the world’s top 10 will be in Akron, including Bubba Watson, Rickie Fowler, Adam Scott and Justin Rose.
Thanks to Arnold Palmer, Firestone South is known as “The Monster”: It’s long, and par is a challenge for those who are not big off the tee. The course was designed by Bert Way and opened in 1929. Robert Trent Jones did a major overhaul of the course in 1960, and last year, the ninth hole played the hardest relative to par: Only eight percent of golfers made birdie on this par-4, 494-yard beast. That could be a game changer next Sunday, so keep an eye on the leaders as they make the turn in the fourth round.
The Firestone CC South course plays 7,400 yards long and is a par 70.
Favorites: Dustin Johnson, Adam Scott, Bubba Watson
Players to Watch: Jason Day, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler
Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering baseball, football, basketball, golf and fantasy sports for CBS Local. He also is an Ironman triathlete and certified triathlon coach. Follow him on Twitter @sxmcp, because he’s quite prolific despite also being a college English professor and a certified copy editor.