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FARMINGDALE, N.Y. -- Phil Mickelsons quest to win his first professional major championship will begin Thursday at 7:55 AM ET ' staring down the barrel of a near-500-yard par-4.
 
For the first time in its 102-year history, the U.S. Open will employ split tees for the first two rounds on the 7,214-yard, par-70 Black Course at Bethpage State Park. USGA officials have forgone tradition this week in the hope that it will speed up play and try and avoid 6+-hour rounds with a 156-man field.
 
Thursday, Mickelson will start on the back nine, with no chance to ease his way into the round.
 
Starting at 10, 12, 13 ' those three are, by far, the most difficult three holes we have on the course ' and 15, he said. Its very difficult to start on the back side here because youre starting right with the meat of the golf course. You dont have an opportunity to get into a rhythm or a flow and feel confident.
 
The 10th hole is 492 yards ' the second longest par-4 in U.S. Open history. The fairway is separated by tall fescue grass, large bunkers and grass hollows. A subtle dogleg left will lead you to a small green fronted by a swale and guarded by several sandy demons.
 
The difficulty of the 11th is dependent upon the wind. Strong prevailing winds can accentuate the challenge of the 435-yard par-4. Players have to hit to a blind fairway, and then try and work their way onto one of the most troubling greens on the course. The putting surface is sloped steeply from back to front, meaning anything over the green is dead. A pitch shot from the deep rough is almost guaranteed to lead to another pitch shot from the opposite end of the green.
 
Take a virtual tour of the Black Course
 
Should Mickelson and company survive the first two holes unscathed, they are rewarded with the longest par-4 in Open history ' the 499-yard 12th.
 
The test doglegs sharply left ' with the prevailing wind blowing from the left and slightly into the players face ' after a massive cross-bunker about 235 yards from the tee. The green is one of the largest on the course, but it is heavy in pronounced undulations.
 
It would be a great start to play the first three holes in even (par), said Mickelson.
 
The 13th is the only par-5 on the inward half. At 554 yards, the hole may require three full swings into a prevailing wind. The fairway curls to the right about 260 yards off the tee, and there is a cross-bunker some 30 yards short of the green.
 
Normally, we look at par-5s as being birdie holes, as great opportunities to score low, but here at the Open, and on 13 more specifically, its a very difficult hole just to salvage par, Mickelson said.
 
The 161-yard par-3 14th may be the easiest hole on the course ' meaning par, not birdie, is a good possibility. A short-iron will be used to attack a large but undulating green.
 
Then its off to No. 15 ' possibly the most demanding hole on any of Bethpage's five golf courses. The drive on the 459-yard hole must be long and accurate on the slight dogleg left. A long-iron or fairway wood will then be used to reach a green that is perched on a hillside, 50 feet above the fairway. Players must not only find the green, but also hit it in the right spot, as the two-tiered surface slopes mightily from back left to front right.
 
To finish the back nine, players will encounter the 479-yard, par-4 16th; the 207-yard, par-3 17th; and the 411-yard, par-4 18th.
 
Starting on No. 10 is one hell of a start, said two-time U.S. Open champion Ernie Els. Youd better be warmed up.
 
Added Jose Maria Olazabal: Its not going to be easy, but everybody is going to have to do it.
 
And then its off to the front, which is no walk in the Bethpage State Park.
 
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