FARMINGDALE, N.Y. – OK, the proposition is this: Tiger Woods or the field in the U.S. Open at the wet beast known as Bethpage Black?
Forced to wager something three figures or more, Woods gets my legal tender. A runaway wouldn’t surprise.
“You want somebody who is long and straight,” Padraig Harrington said on Tuesday, not intentionally referring to Woods’ form in winning the recent Memorial Tournament. “Long in the air (is vital) this week because it’s all about carry out there. There’s very little run. Find a guy who is long and straight and is a good putter.”
I can think of one off the top of my head. And that one, who won here in 2002, talks lovingly of the Black: “The golf course is phenomenal. … This is probably the most difficult golf course we’ve faced from tee to green.”
• Even though par-70 Bethpage Black has three par 4s over 500 yards (Nos. 7, 10 and 12) and is playing much longer than its listed 7,426 yards, Kenny Perry says he doesn’t think the scores will “be that high.” That means he thinks under par will win.
That said, to hear him, you’ll likely hear some screaming, particularly with regard to the 525-yard seventh. Perry drove down the middle there in a practice round, still had 255 yards to the green and was blocked out by trees.
Good luck, fellas.
• How many guys can win the Open? 20? 10? 5? 1?
Last year’s runner-up, Rocco Mediate, has a strong feeling.
“A lot of people have been saying there are only five or 10 guys that can win,” Mediate said. “That’s wrong. That’s wrong.”
His rationale? Long hitters can’t hit a 3-iron much straighter than the medium guys can their hybrid or 3-wood.
“I’ve never seen par kill you at one of these things,” he said.
• Mediate’s passion aside, I’m thinking a medium-length hitter (read: Jim Furyk, prototypical Open grinder) might have to max out to win here – and that would be a shame. The place is already wet and more rain is in the forecast.
Geoff Ogilvy, no bunter, is on the short list of contenders. But the Black is already beating him down. He hit wood into several par-4 holes in a Tuesday morning practice round. Then there are his 3- and 4-irons.
“We’re wearing them out,” he said.
• Paul Casey is building a house (often a distraction for a touring pro) in Scottsdale. But he jokingly referred to taking up residence on Long Island because of one particular bargain.
“I would consider living in New York if I could play this at $45,” he said.
A touring pro talking about paying a green fee? That’s different.
• This jumped out from Woods’ lengthy pre-tournament news conference (highlights below): He says his physical condition now is significantly better than it was when he won the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March.
“Night and day,” he said, referring to his recovery from reconstructive knee surgery after last year’s U.S. Open. “I keep getting better and better. It’s fun because before, no matter what I did I kept getting worse. I kept doing more damage to the thing. Now it’s the exact opposite.”
Jack, are you listening? Enjoy the record 18 while you can.
• Michael Jordan shot 86 at the Black last Friday after starting out triple bogey, double bogey, bogey, double bogey.
Take this to the bank: That 86 will beat somebody this week. And he might be able to sell his back-nine 39 to someone.
“Athletes and entertainers (are) used to performing in front of crowds,” Woods said of his pal. “So once you put a little bit of pressure on them it’s amazing how well they perform. For Michael to be in front of a gallery, he usually plays better.”
• Would I be surprised if Phil Mickelson won this week? Yeah, somewhat, given his heavy heart and lack of regular play of late.
But never underestimate inspiration.
• An Open at Bethpage is not only known for its difficult test but its vocal fans. If 2002 is an indication, this is like golf at Yankee Stadium.
The polite golf clap doesn’t apply. The yell with a husky voice does.
Only the FBR Open at the TPC Scottsdale trots out such loud candor. But there the noise applies to only a couple of holes. Here it’s a full ride.
• Stick a fork in Padraig Harrington? He said this here: “Obviously I’m not confident …”
Doesn’t sound like someone who is going to beat Woods in their Thursday-Friday pairing.
But we heard him poor-mouth himself and then win the last two majors of 2008. He was hurt before that British Open and struggling entering the weekend at the PGA.
• The USGA, of course, has delighted for decades in making creative Thursday-Friday pairings at the U.S. Open. But I’m not sure I’ve ever seen such a volume of playful groupings as this year’s. While applauding the USGA’s sneaky sense of humor, here’s one man’s sampling:
The Frenchmen: Thomas Levet, Jean-Francois Lucquin, Raphael Jacquelin.
The OK State Cowboys: Rickie Fowler, Casey Wittenberg, Bo Van Pelt.
The heart-throbs: Sergio Garcia, Adam Scott, Camilo Villegas.
Major broken-heart club: Kenny Perry, Rocco Mediate, Tom Lehman.
The bombers: J.B. Holmes, Alvaro Quiros, Nick Watney.
Ex-U.S. Amateur champs: Billy Mayfair, Matt Kuchar, Ricky Barnes.
Carl & Charl: Pettersson and Schwartzel.
Reclamation projects: David Duval, Darren Clarke, David Toms.
Tomorrow’s superstars: Anthony Kim, Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson.
Obscure C Club: Clark Klaasen, Colby Beckstrom, Cameron Yancey.
Oh, Canada: Mike Weir and Stephen Ames.
The 2004 Shinnecock gang: Retief Goosen, Ernie Els, Phil Mickelson.
Singh-Singh: Vijay Singh, Jeev Milkha Singh.
Spanish only, please: Andres Romero, Eduardo Romero, Miguel Angel Jimenez.
And my personal favorite – The Scandinavian name-game special: Soren Kjeldsen, Soren Hansen, Peter Hanson.