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Archive for Tuesday, June 11, 2002

Tough test awaits U.S. Open field

June 11, 2002

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— Some U.S. Golf Assn. officials hinted at record scoring in the U.S. Open, to be played for the first time on a truly public course with relatively flat greens.

Some players who took on the Black Course at Bethpage State Park during a practice round Monday had an entirely different verdict.

"What idiot wrote that?" David Duval said.

Duval played the Black with Davis Love III, who looked stunned when told there was talk of the lowest 72-hole score in the 102-year history of the U.S. Open.

"Scoring record? If the wind blows even 15 mph, some guys won't finish," Love said. "The only scoring record that might be set is the wrong kind."

The last time a score over par won the U.S. Open was in 1978 at Cherry Hills outside Denver, where Andy North won at 1-over 285.

No one is suggesting Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson or any of the 156 players who qualified for the U.S. Open is incapable of breaking par over four days on a Black Course that hardly resembles a local muni this week.

They just don't think it will be easy.

"Whoever said these are flat greens is crazy," said Bob Estes, who grew up in Abilene, Texas. "Maybe they're flat for New York, but they're sure not flat for Texas."

The rest of the course is no picnic, either.

PGA champion David Toms missed the fairway to the right on the 459-yard 15th hole, which is to say he was up to his ankles in thick grass. He tried to reach the elevated green, only to see his ball come up well short and disappear into more lush grass.

Toms looked at caddie Scott Gneiser, took a sand wedge and pitched it out to the fairway at the base of the hill.

Get used to that kind of decision, said Vijay Singh, who has the strength and steep swing to get the ball out of the rough, and the smarts not to bother.

"I have a club I can get to the green, but it's not worth it," Singh said. "You learn through the years that you can get up-and-down from 80 yards."

The USGA dumped about 9,000 tons of sand in the 70 bunkers, making them soft and difficult to escape. The grass around the green is so thick that Woods tried a variety of shots from behind the green first a flop, then a chop.

Both were a bust.

Fast, deceptive greens. Thick grass framing the fairways and greens.

Anything else?

Oh, the Black Course also happens to have two of the longest par-4s in U.S. Open history, the 499-yard 12th and 492-yard 10th. Those two are only part of the equation, because the Black is the longest par-70 in history at 7,214 yards.

Other than that ...

"I'll take my chances at 6-under," Singh said.

Singh has been playing practice rounds at Bethpage since missing the cut at the Buick Classic over the weekend, and he found it has changed a little every day, with wind swirling through the trees and affecting his club selection.

He also is trying to figure out how to keep the ball in the fairway, a critical part of anyone's game this week.

"It's a little weird how they shape the fairways," Singh said. "You're going across the fairways. You can't shape it too much on one side or the other. The guys who hit it very straight are going to do well."

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