FARMINGDALE, N.Y. -- So far it has been love at first sight for most of the 156 players in the field for the highly anticipated 102nd U.S. Open, the first Open played on a truly public golf course -- Long Island's Bethpage Black.
The hate likely will begin to set in Thursday morning, when many will be flailing out of gnarly, club-grabbing rough or yawning bunkers or wondering how a golf ball hit on a flat surface with the touch of a feather can roll so far on firm and fast greens.
How will the best players in the world fare on this 7,214-yard New York State Park course 30 miles from midtown Manhattan? That's been one of the main questions of the early week practice rounds. The other involves Tiger Woods. Can he win his second Open title in three years and keep hope alive for a one-season Grand Slam of golf's four major championships?
Woods, 26, has won seven major championships since turning professional in late 1996. He holds the Open scoring record for his remarkable tour de force at Pebble Beach in 2000, when he finished at 12-under-par 272 and prevailed by another record 15 shots.
His game will have to be at an equally high level to win this week on a golf course he had never seen until a practice round two weeks ago. It's the longest course in Open history, with a 3,700-yard back nine, and plays to a par 70.
The Black could play even longer after an hour-long downpour softened fairways late Wednesday afternoon. On the flip side, the firm greens now might be receptive enough to hold the long iron and fairway metal shots likely necessary to get home. Rain is in the forecast the next three days, so conditions should remain similar.
It seems merely a coincidence that Woods has never won a major on a par-70 venue in eight previous attempts. Woods certainly feels that way, though he likely will use that as motivation.
"Actually, I think it gives me more of an advantage, to be honest with you," he said. "A lot of the longer par 4s, if I drive the ball in play, I'm going to have shorter irons into the greens. When you get par 4s over 480 yards like they are here this week, you're going to have to be able to bring the ball in (to greens) high. If I'm driving the ball in play, I think I'll have a better chance of stopping the ball (on the greens)."
A course designed by A.W. Tillinghast in 1934 has been brought up to date and speed by Rees Jones, the so-called Open Doctor because of the many face-lifts he has directed at several past Open sites, including Congressional in 1997.
The Black handles about 45,000 rounds a year to all-comers, but it is now in pristine private club condition after an infusion of almost $4 million from the USGA and the state of New York.
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