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
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
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
"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
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
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:
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.