As if the US Open venue, Bethpage Black, wasn’t tough enough already, the heavens are expected to open in time for the first round proper following some cool, rainy conditions around the New York course.
Already, the rain has forced Bethpage Black to play to every yard of its 7,426 yards length and more rain has been forecast to fall well into next week making the course a formidable beast to all. Keeping the ball in play and out of the rough will undoubtedly be key to success.
World number one and defending champion Tiger Woods believes the course will prove tough to master and will provide a stern test for the assembled field.
“This is probably the most difficult course we’ve faced,” Woods said. “This golf course is all you want. With the weather coming in this week, it’s only going to get longer and harder.”
“You have to drive the ball well. With it being this wet and this long, the rough is so thick, you have to get the ball in play,”
Bethpage Black has a reputation for being a tough test, and a sign near the first tee carries a warning that the course is ‘only for highly-skilled golfers’. The seventh hole, a right-handed dogleg of 525 yards plays to a punishing par four and is the longest par-four in U.S Open history. In fact, the fourth hole on the course is eight yards shorter, but plays to a par-five.
Kenny Perry, who threw away this year’s US Masters with bogeys on the final two holes, issued a warning about reaching the seventh green as oak trees block the short-cut, while some 300 yard drives would be needed to ensure a safe approach to the green.
“I couldn’t get to No. 7. No matter what I do on that hole, I can’t,” Perry said. “They are expecting rain showers. There are going to be a lot of guys have trouble getting it over the bunker there to the fairway.”
Mike Davis, the senior competitions director of the USGA is charged with setting up Bethpage Black for the tournament and players are expecting a mix of tee locations that will test both length of the tee and force some difficult playing decisions for others; especially those who drive shorter off the tee and Tiger summed up the thoughts of the players when he said:
“Mike is trying to make the golf course more playable, bring back shotmaking and the unpredictability of the flyer. Should I go or not go for the green? I’m one of the longer hitters … and I’m hitting long irons. A lot of the shorter guys are obviously hitting woods into the greens. If it rains, how much are they going to move up the tees is going to be the question. If you shoot something under par you’ll be looking pretty good.”
It looks like Bethpage Black is getting ready to take a bite out of of Tiger and the rest of the field; but will Tiger bite back? Geoff Ogilvy, the 2006 winner of the U.S Open believes so and described Woods as being ‘far and away the favourite’. Bookmaker William Hill agrees, with Woods available at 7/4; well ahead of the next in the market, Phil Mickelson who is priced at 10/1.
Whatever happens, it appears that Bethpage Black won’t be taking any prisoners when the tournament kicks off on Thursday.