U.S. Open Preview - KAIT Jonesboro, AR - Region 8 News, weather, sports

U.S. Open Preview

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -  "I heard that course is a monster."

This  was two-time PGA Tour winner Anthony Kim, speaking last Monday before he
had ever played a round at Bethpage Black.

"Of  all  the U.S. Opens I've  played, it probably presented the most problems
for me."

And  this  was  2003 U.S.  Open  winner  Jim  Furyk,  speaking about  the  '02
championship,  when  the Black  Course at Bethpage  State Park in Farmingdale,
N.Y.,  became  the first publicly  owned facility  to host the season's second
major championship.

Nothing  instills fear  in professional golfers quite like the setup of a U.S.
Open  course,  and few courses, like  Furyk said, have presented more problems
for the world's best players than Bethpage Black.

But  it's not  as if golfers aren't  warned ahead of time what they're in for.
After  all,  there is  a sign on  the first tee  which cautions: "Warning: The
Black  Course  is an  extremely difficult  course which  we recommend only for
highly skilled golfers."

Tens  of thousands of players every year ignore that warning to play rounds on
the  Black. On Thursday,  for the second time in eight seasons, they will have
something  in  common with the professionals  they watch on TV when the course
once again hosts the U.S. Open.

Tiger  Woods will  hold the unique position of being a dual defending champion
this  week after winning  at Bethpage in 2002 and taking last year's U.S. Open
at Torrey Pines in a playoff over Rocco Mediate.

Woods was the only player to break par for the championship in 2002, finishing
at  three-under  277 to beat  Phil Mickelson by  three shots after 72 grueling
holes on the Long Island course.

Bethpage  was  the longest  course in  U.S. Open history  when it hosted seven
years  ago, but several courses have passed it since then. The Black, a par-70
course,  will play more than 7,400 yards this week -- longer than it played in
2002, but about 200 yards shorter than Torrey Pines last year.

It's  the perfect  place for a U.S.  Open -- a course with built-in difficulty
that  can be  made even  harder by  the notoriously  torturous conditions  the
United States Golf Association sets up each year.

The  USGA  pays particular  attention  to  the  rough  at U.S.  Open  courses,
penalizing  the players  according  to how  off-line they  hit  the ball.  The
graduated rough at Bethpage will be grown from 1.75 to 6 inches deep.

The third cut of rough, ranging from 4-6 inches, will be the most penal.

In  the third round at Winged Foot three years ago, Colin Montgomerie hit into
the six-inch rough, duffed a flop shot into a bunker and then two-putted for a
double-bogey.

"Bloody hell!" was Montgomerie's histrionic reaction -- and it's just the type
of  frustration the USGA  looks for with its "penalty fits the crime" plan for
U.S. Opens.

Seven  years ago,  Furyk said,  the course  may  have been  set up  to be  too
difficult, even for a U.S. Open site. But Furyk said he's keeping an open mind
for this week.

"I hope it's set up differently and it suits my game," said Furyk.

Players will find one stretch particularly challenging this week. Beginning at
No. 10, the first four holes on the back nine will play more than 2,000 yards,
including the 605-yard 13th.

Players  starting  at No. 10 on  Thursday and Friday will have to successfully
negotiate  that  gauntlet to  avoid derailing their  rounds almost before they
begin.

Another  unique span  on the front nine features a par-four hole (the 525-yard
seventh) that is longer than a par-five (517-yard fourth).

So  who's got the game -- and the intangibles -- to win at the Black? Here's a
run-down on some top players:


TIGER WOODS

Woods  leads the  list of contenders, especially since he hit every fairway in
the  final round while winning the Memorial Tournament two weeks ago. If Woods
is  hitting fairways and his putting holds up -- well, in those situations the
three-time  U.S.  Open champion runs  a close third  behind death and taxes in
terms of certainty.

There  is, of course, also the matter of Woods' length off the tee, which will
give  him shorter  distances into  the Bethpage  greens. And  the fact  that a
victory  would  move him within  three wins of  Jack Nicklaus' record 18 major
championships.

PHIL MICKELSON

When  Mickelson and his wife, Amy, announced last month that she was diagnosed
with  breast cancer, Lefty  was uncertain he would make it back to the tour in
time  for  the U.S. Open.  Perhaps the location  helped him with the decision.
Beloved  by fans in New York -- a state where he has posted three second-place
finishes  at the  U.S. Open,  including at  Bethpage in  2002 --  Mickelson is
competing for the second straight week after tying for 59th in Memphis.

Mickelson  has the  game to compete anywhere, and his seven top-10 finishes at
the  U.S.  Open prove he is  equipped to handle  a USGA setup. He has suffered
tough  losses in New  York -- most recently when he hit a hospitality tent and
double-bogeyed  the  72nd hole to  lose the 2006 U.S.  Open to Geoff Ogilvy at
Winged  Foot. But one  can bet he will receive a heaping of good will from the
gallery  in Farmingdale, and that may be what he needs to get over the top for
his first U.S. Open title.

PAUL CASEY

You may be surprised to learn Casey is ranked No. 3 in the world. That's OK --
even  Casey  still can't believe  it. But it  becomes less surprising when you
look at the season the talented Englishman is having: two wins on the European
Tour,  his  first PGA Tour  title and a runner-up  at the lucrative Match Play
Championship.

The  10-time  European Tour winner  may not have the  best U.S. Open record --
only  three  made cuts  in six  starts --  but his  66 in  the second round at
Oakmont  two years ago,  where he finished tied for 10th, proves he can go low
on the tough courses.

SERGIO GARCIA

Saddled  for the  last few years with  the dreaded "Best Player to Never Win a
Major"  tag, Garcia is  the best driver of the ball in golf (it might not even
be  close). Long and accurate off the tee -- perhaps the best skill to have at
brutal Bethpage -- his putting has always been an issue.

Garcia  played in the final group with Woods at Bethpage in 2002, but finished
fourth  after  closing with  a 74  on Sunday.  His win  at last year's Players
Championship  remains the  closest the Spaniard has come to proving he can win
the big tournaments.

GEOFF OGILVY

Ogilvy  was  the first Aussie  to win a  major in 11  years when he turned the
trick  at  the U.S.  Open  at  Winged  Foot in  2006  --  a victory  aided  by
Mickelson's  errant drive  at No.  18 on  Sunday. His  first career  major was
preceded  by  a win at the  WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship earlier that
season.  And  guess what tournament Ogilvy  won again this year? That's right,
the lucrative Match Play, where he beat Paul Casey in March.

If  history isn't always  an indicator of future success, talent is -- and the
32-year-old Aussie has plenty of that. Ogilvy, who also won the season-opening
Mercedes-Benz Championship in January, owns six career PGA Tour titles.

HENRIK STENSON

Stenson  stands  sixth in  the world  rankings following a  win at the Players
Championship  last  month and  four  other  top-five finishes  worldwide  this
season,  including a third-place  tie at the Houston Open. He made a good U.S.
Open debut at Winged Foot in 2006, where he tied for 26th, but hasn't made the
cut at the championship in the last two years.

A  proven winner  with eight  combined  wins on  the PGA  and European  Tours,
Stenson's  showing at  Winged Foot included a  71 in the second round during a
U.S. Open where shooting one-over par counted as a very good day.

VIJAY SINGH

Singh  has  an impeccable  U.S. Open  record -- 14  cuts made  in 15 starts --
without  having won the championship. The big Fijian's putting has always been
an issue, and this season is no different. He ranks near the bottom of the PGA
Tour  in  putts per round in  2009, an unacceptable position for the notorious
workhorse.

A  34-time winner, Singh picked up three victories after last year's U.S. Open
and  claimed the second FedEx Cup and its $10 million prize. Has missed a slew
of cuts this season while posing only two top-10s, including a ninth-place tie
at the Players Championship.

JIM FURYK

Furyk  missed the cut at Bethpage in 2002, then won his only major at the 2003
U.S. Open at Olympia Fields. He tied for second place two years in a row -- at
Winged  Foot in 2006  and Oakmont in '07 -- each time making mistakes down the
stretch on Sunday that cost him a chance to win.

He  doesn't have the  length off the tee that U.S. Open venues require, but he
is one of the most accurate drivers on the PGA Tour, and that certainly helps.
Furyk  hasn't won  since the 2007 Canadian Open, but he finished second behind
Tiger Woods at the Memorial two weeks ago.

PADRAIG HARRINGTON

Harrington  won  the 2007 British  Open to  become his continent's first major
winner  since  Paul Lawrie  at the  1999 British. He  also claimed last year's
British Open and PGA Championship to give him three of the last seven majors.

The steady Irishman has a decent U.S. Open record with four top-10 finishes in
his  11 starts,  including an eighth-place tie  at Bethpage in 2002. His 67 in
the second round at tough Torrey Pines last year was eye-opening.

ERNIE ELS

A  two-time U.S.  Open champion,  Els has  ball-striking ability  that usually
makes him a threat in the second major of the season, and his decent play this
year  hints that he  may be ready for another win. He has nine top-25 finishes
worldwide this season, including five top-10s.

Els  tied  for fifth place at  the WGC-Match Play Championship for his biggest
check  this year,  but  he missed  the  Masters cut  after  shooting 75-71  at
Augusta.  He tied for 24th place at Bethpage in 2002 and won his U.S. Opens at
Oakmont in 1994 and Congressional in 1997.

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