The Big Show


FARMINGDALE, N.Y. – The 109th U.S. Open begins today here at Bethpage Black. Here are some things to watch for during Round 1:

Water, water everywhere
Not water as in hazards on the course, only the eighth hole has water. Rather water as in rain that’s forecast in the area for each of the next nine days. The course already is pretty soggy in spots, including the 18th fairway, which is a major concern. To help, the U.S. Golf Association has 220 volunteers committed to working on the grounds crew, has roughly 80 squeegees ready for the greens, will likely move the tees forward so that the players can negotiate the course easier and will not position holes in the lower lying areas of the greens where water will collect. The USGA made it clear that under no circumstance will the championship be played under lift, clean and place. It is going to be a long week.

All eyes on Tiger
While everyone seems ready to hand major No. 15 to Tiger Woods, his first-round performance often is an indicator of how well he does for the week at a U.S. Open. In 6 U.S. Open’s where he has finished in the top 10 his first-round scoring average is 68.83. In the 7 Open’s where he’s finished outside the top 10 his scoring average is 73.71. Of the three U.S. Open victories for Woods, his highest first-round score was 72 last year at Torrey Pines.

How will Phil handle his emotions?
As if Phil Mickelson hasn’t endeared himself to the New York faithful enough over the years, he said Wednesday that he’s brushed up on his knowledge of New York sports so he can have thoughtful dialogue should he find himself in a discussion with the gallery. Still, this is going to be a difficult week for Lefty, and he knows it. Although players often say they use the time inside the ropes as a chance to get away from the distractions of the outside world, it’ll be difficult here because everyone will be sending well wishes to Phil as his wife Amy prepares for breast cancer treatment back home in California. It’ll be compelling to see how he reacts on the first tee.

“I’m going to do the best that I can,” Mickelson said. “I feel like my game is ready, but you never know. I feel like emotionally I’m better, but you just never know.”

And then there’s Sergio
The anti-Mickelson is likely to be Sergio Garcia. The New Yorkers don’t forget and many of the same fans giving Sergio the business here in 2002 for his club-milking and whining will be back for a repeat performance. You’ll also remember that Sergio pouted about the weather, saying that Woods always seems to be on the best end of the draw. Although he comes into this week saying “I love New York” it’ll be interesting to see if the fans buy that line, or if they’ll add to the 2002 mess by reminding Sergio of his more recent episodes – complaining after the Masters this year and news that he’s been down in the dumps because of girl troubles with Greg Norman’s daughter, Morgan Leigh.

Not since the Beatles?
That’s right, not since the Beatles broke up has a European won the U.S. Open. Englishman Tony Jacklin won the Open at Hazeltine in 1970, the same year the voting age was lowered from 21 to 18 in the U.S. There are candidates aplenty this year. Paul Casey, Henrik Stenson and Padraig Harrington come to mind.

“This would be the (major) that maybe I’ve struggled at the most,” said Paul Casey, ranked No. 3 in the World Rankings. “So as a personal sort of victory, I think it would be, sort of almost seen as a greater achievement. And to do something that hasn’t been achieved in 39 years would be massive. So I would love to try and achieve that.”

No seventh heaven
The seventh hole is more like hell than it is heaven. Although it’s early in a round, it still is going to produce some high, rally-killing numbers. At 525-yards, this beast of a hole will be the longest par 4 in the history of the Open and it’s actually longer than the par-5 fourth hole (517 yards). Here’s how long the hole is. During a Tuesday practice round J.B. Holmes – one of the longest mashers on Tour – hit driver, 5-wood barely onto the green. David Toms hit driver, 3-wood and was 30 yards short. Yikes.

First-round wonders
Sure, everyone will be watching Woods and Mickelson but if you remember, it was Justin Hicks and Kevin Streelman who were the first-round leaders at Torrey Pines at last year’s U.S. Open. And Eric Axley was a shot off the lead. Ultimately, Axley tied for ninth and Hicks and Streelman fell quickly down the leaderboard in the second round and were never heard from again. But that’s of no significance. Point is, someone we’ve never heard of will shoot a good number in Round 1 and introduce himself to the world.