Getting a Feel for Winged Foot

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U.S. OpenMAMARONECK, N.Y. ' Tiger Woods appeared calm and relaxed on the practice putting green, joking with instructor Hank Haney while wrapping up a brief, afternoon rehearsal session Monday at Winged Foot Golf Club.
 
By sight, everything seemed business as usual.
 
Of course, thats hardly the case.
 
Hank Haney and Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods walks the course during Monday's practice round with swing coach Hank Haney.
Woods is making his first competitive start in nine weeks, his longest such layoff since turning professional. The U.S. Open will mark his first event since the Masters Tournament ' his first event since the death of his father on May 3.
 
He played nine holes on the West Course, doing so alongside Charles Howell III, Bo Van Pelt and Jeff Sluman, before heading to the practice area.
 
Woods, who previously tested the venue a few weeks ago, didn't address the media. He's scheduled to do that in a press conference at 1:00 p.m. EDT Tuesday.
 
Monday was a busy day at Winged Foot as most of the field of 156 was on hand to get in an extra look at the testy layout which will host the seasons second major championship.
 
This is the fifth time the classic AW Tillinghast design has hosted a U.S. Open, but the first time since 1984.
 
Peter Jacobsen competed in that U.S. Open, and hes back again 22 years later.
 
Jacobsen won the 2004 U.S. Senior Open to qualify for the regular U.S. Open in 05. He then finished among the top 15 at Pinehurst to earn a return trip this year.
 
He said that he got a chance to play nine holes Sunday and found the layout equally as attractive as it was more than two decades ago, but even more diabolical.
 
The length, thats a big difference. Obviously, theyve added a tremendous amount of yardage to almost every hole, said Jacobsen, who tied for seventh in the 84 Open. I played the front nine and it seems theyve added 40, 50, 60 yards to just about every hole.
 
It isnt quite that much, but this year, by the card, the West Course will play nearly 300 yards longer than it did in 84. The official count then was 6,940 yards; now, its 7,264 ' both times playing to a par 70.
 
The West Course also held the 1997 PGA Championship, where it measured 6,980 yards (par 70), and the 2004 U.S. Amateur Championship, where it measured 7,266 (par 70).
 
But even more so than a distance disparage, there is noticeable difference between 84 and 06 in relation to the rough.
 
The rough is tougher, Jacobsen said. (United States Golf Association, Executive Director) David Fay told me yesterday that theyre trying something new.
 
That new thing is a graduated rough. As opposed to past years, the rough will be shortest nearer the fairway and increase in length the further out you go. The first 6 feet off the fairway will measure 1 inches; the next cut of rough, the primary rough, will be double that; and the secondary rough will grow from 6 to 8 inches.
 
It is tough, very tough, said reigning U.S. Amateur champion Eduardo Molinari. But the course is very fair, a great test of golf.
 
Molinari has already gotten in 27 holes worth of practice on the West Course. He played nine holes last Tuesday, nine holes last Wednesday and nine more this Monday. Thursday, he will tee it up alongside Woods for the second time in as many majors. He shot 80-77 grouped with the worlds No. 1 at Augusta. The Italian feels better prepared to handle the situation this time around.
 
Obviously, you learn a lot of things playing in the Masters with Tiger. Theres a lot of people watching, which is one of the highest pressure situations you can be in, he said. I think I learned a lot from that and Im expecting to play a better tournament.
 
No one may be more excited this week than Andy Svoboda, because no one is more familiar with the layout than is he.
 
Svoboda is a club member at Winged Foot and made it through the qualifying to earn his first spot in a U.S. Open. The 26-year-old competed in the 04 Amateur at Winged Foot and called that experience the highlight of his golfing career ' until now.
 
Im really living a dream here, he said. I grew up playing this course since I was 10 (years old), and Ive never seen it in better shape.
 
Svoboda estimates that hes played, on average, 150 rounds a year at Winged Foot. Multiply that by 15 years and he figures to have more than 2,000 rounds of experience to his credit.
 
But the current Hooters Tour professional knows the course will play far different from the way it has in the past. And hes not experiencing visions of grandeur just yet.
 
Im not going to let myself get ahead like that, he said. Im just going to go about my business out there, and whatever happens, happens. Its going to be great.
 
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