FARMINGDALE, N.Y. — Tiger Woods’ defense of the U.S. Open championship started with an adventure at a waterlogged Bethpage Black.
Woods pulled his tee shot 50 yards into the rough before scrambling for an improbable par on his opening hole Thursday morning, as increasingly strong rain pelted an already-moist course and led to a suspension less than 3 1/2 hours after play began.
Playing alongside fellow reigning major winners Padraig Harrington and Angel Cabrera, Woods’ first shot was so far off line he considered playing a second ball from the tee.
“Way left,” caddie Steve Williams said to the world’s No. 1 player on the tee box.
Woods eventually hit his second from near the front of a merchandise tent, his ball sailing well past the thickest rough alongside the opening fairway. He ended up playing off grass trampled by several days of foot traffic, then got up and down from a greenside bunker for par.
As Woods worked to salvage his first hole, not far behind him crews worked to protect the 18th hole — which was practically waterlogged. Hoses pumped water off that fairway, and four people pushed squeegees on the green to keep it as dry as possible.
Eventually, workers all over the course couldn’t keep up, and play was suspended at 10:16 a.m. with standing water on many fairways and greens. Only four players — Jeff Brehaut, Johan Edfors, Andrew Parr and Ryan Spears — were under par when play was stopped, all at 1 under.
Woods was 1 over through six holes. When play resumes, he’ll have a par putt on the 7th green.
Forecasters said all week that rain could have a serious effect on the tournament, especially during the first day. They couldn’t have been more right.
Rickie Fowler, an amateur who made the cut at last year’s Open, was the first person to swing away from the opening hole Thursday. He arrived under cloudy skies at 6:54 a.m.
It started raining two minutes later.
Shortly after play began, the USGA sent crews out to try and keep the greens dry, and volunteers shooed people away from the hill below the first tee, saying it was too rainslicked for anyone to walk upon.
“(Holes) one and 18, that’s going to be the issue,” said Jim Hyler, the chairman of the USGA’s championship committee. “Eighteen is the real issue.”
Bethpage is hard enough when dry.
It was set up as the second-longest U.S. Open layout in history, and as an added bonus, it was to have three different par-4s measuring more than 500 yards.
The USGA showed a bit of compassion in that regard Thursday. Hole No. 7 was played at 489 yards, down from 525, and the 10th and 12th holes both had tees slightly moved up, putting them just below 500 yards each.
Storms were forecast for Thursday, and there isn’t a whole lot of relief expected through the weekend, either. Bethpage’s greens are soft and receptive, but the fairways are spongy and the always-thick U.S. Open rough is teetering on becoming borderline-impossible.
“If we can’t play it, if it’s not fair to be playing the ball as it lies, we’ll suspend play,” Hyler said. “We’ll stay here until we get a champion.”
Woods, who beat Rocco Mediate in a playoff last year at Torrey Pines for the title, is the favorite to repeat, since he’s always the favorite whenever he plays.
If there’s a people’s favorite this week, it’s Phil Mickelson.
Mickelson isn’t from New York, but for the next week, those strangers behind the ropes at Bethpage Black are his new best friends. For his lone practice round Wednesday, many wore pink shirts and ribbons to show support for his wife Amy’s fight with breast cancer. They shouted encouragement whenever the world’s No. 2 player walked past and even sang a day-late verse of “Happy Birthday.”
He was to tee off in the afternoon Thursday, although that hardly seemed certain because of the weather backup.