At Bethpage Black, expect no letup

FARMINGDALE, N.Y. -- At the 2009 U.S. Open at Bethpage Black, the par-4, 525-yard seventh hole was the longest par-4 in U.S. Open history. It was the USGA's latest effort to keep up with the advancements in ball and club technology. But Bethpage was holding its own against Father Time. It didn't need much course doctoring to stay relevant.

In the 2002 and 2009 U.S. Opens at Bethpage Black, the seventh hole played as the fourth-hardest hole. In '09, only the 501-yard, par-4 12th hole rendered more bogeys than the seventh on the Black Course. Lucas Glover, who would be the last man standing during a mostly rainy and dreary week three years ago, had one of the 11 double-bogeys registered on the hole.

This year, the dogleg right seventh hole with the diagonal bunker that runs parallel to the fairway will play as a 553-yard par-5. The original designer, A.W. Tillinghast, had intended for it to be that way.

Those four shots could have a major impact on the tournament come Sunday night in the Barclays, the PGA Tour's playoffs opener.

"It's obvious that you can make a birdie there now," said Sergio Garcia, who won in Greensboro last week. "Whereas before, a par was good score. But at the end of the day it really doesn't make that big of a difference."

Here in '09, Garcia had a tie for 10th on a rain-soaked Black Course. Low 80s and sunny conditions are expected this week.

"It should be lot of firmer than it was in '09," said Ricky Barnes, who finished in a tie for second in that U.S. Open. "But the setup and lines are going to be about the same."

Tiger Woods, who won here in 2002 and finished sixth in '09, called Bethpage Black a U.S. Open course with the only significant change being the seventh hole.

There is an ample amount of lush rough and not much chance of advancing it far if you don't hit the fairway.

For a first-timer to Bethpage like Blake Adams, it's a jaw-dropping experience. He's seen it on TV like most people, but it seems almost surreal and a little scary for him to walk on these grounds.

"It's a tough track, obviously," said the 37-year-old Adams, who had a tie for seventh at the PGA Championship. "I saw it for the first time on Tuesday. I'm still looking for that easy hole. There are 18 pretty tough ones out there. There are no easy layups. It's not like some golf courses that we see where there are six easy ones.

"It will be interesting to see how they lay it out for this week. I know the past two Opens were a beast. It will be interesting to see if they move the tees up. If they keep them back that will cut down the number of guys that can win."

At 7,468 yards, the par-71 Black Course will certainly be a beast. Its sheer length is its most intimidating quality. Its Goliath size and personality can be overwhelming, overshadowing the intricacies of a layout that is very straightforward.

"Everything about it is just big," said Zach Johnson, who missed the cut here in 2009. "It's almost like each hole is its own little -- you don't see another hole, you're on that hole and that's it."

The 15th hole might be the loneliest place on the course. It's a long par-4 (478 yards) with a steep uphill approach to a green guarded by bunkers. It has easily the most severe putting surface that tilts from back to front and left to right.

In '09, there were 32 bogeys on the hole. With a stroke average of 4.471, it ranked as the most difficult hole for the tournament. In '09, Tiger was 4 over par for the week on No. 15.

But as Adams pointed out, there are 18 good holes at the Black Course and it's difficult to find an easy one. That goes for the amateurs who make the pilgrimage here by the thousands every year to see a glimpse of the Tillinghast gem and to the best players in the world.

No matter who wins this week -- Tiger, Rory McIlroy or maybe a rookie like Bud Cauley or Harris English -- it's likely he will leave here knowing he has done something very special on one of the world's best golf courses.