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Friday, June 19, 2009

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Back On Track On The Black

Players found a softer, more receptive but still very hard Bethpage Black Course when first-round play resumed at the U.S. Open

By David Shefter, USGA

Farmingdale, N.Y. – A softer Bethpage Black didn’t necessarily translate into an easier one.

With the property absorbing more than an inch of rain over the past 24 hours, the second-longest course in U.S. Open history became even longer. And while the softer greens were receptive to approach shots struck with long irons, hybrids and fairway metals, that still didn’t make scoring any easier in the rain-delayed first round on Friday.

Well, the 2009 U.S. Open is played on the Black (Course) at Bethpage, and not on the Red (Course).

Only two players managed to break par on the 7,426-yard, par-70 venue among the morning wave of 78 golfers.

Amateur Drew Weaver, the 2007 British Amateur champion from High Point, N.C., and four-time European Tour winner Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland currently sit atop the leaderboard midway through the first round after shooting 1-under 69s. Weaver recently completed his college eligibility at Virginia Tech, but is remaining an amateur through the summer with hopes of making the USA Walker Cup team.

Those two golfers were one stroke clear of five others, including overnight partial-round leader Jeff Brehaut. Brehaut was one under through 11 holes when play was suspended for the day at 10:15 a.m. Thursday. Joining Brehaut at even-par 70 was England’s Ian Poulter, Johan Edfors of Sweden, amateur Cameron Tringale of Laguna Niguel, Calif., and three-time USGA champion Ryan Moore of Spanaway, Wash., whose first U.S. Open experience came seven years ago at Bethpage.

World No. 1 and defending champion Tiger Woods shot a 4-over 74, which included bogeys on 17 and 18 and a double-bogey 6 at 15.

The second wave of 78 players, which included Phil Mickelson, started at 10 a.m. in 11-minute intervals.

When players resumed the first round Friday morning at 7:26, they found a golf course in remarkable condition, despite the torrential rains on Thursday. Jim Hyler, the chairman of the USGA’s Championship Committee, said the greens were rolling in the low 13s on the Stimpmeter. The greens were rolled several times, but not cut.

“As far as softness, it was pretty similar,” said the 22-year-old Weaver, comparing the course conditions of Thursday to Friday morning. “You are getting more mud balls now and that’s tricky. That’s definitely going to be an issue this afternoon.”

Said Brehaut: “It was not that bad. They did a remarkable job getting the course ready.”

Brehaut added that he was forced to hit a few more hybrids and fairway metals into greens due to the lack of roll. "It's a long course, no matter what," he said.

Weaver, meanwhile, kept his momentum going by converting a 12-foot par putt at No. 12. At that point, he was two over par, but birdies at 13, 16 and 17 pushed him into red figures.

“That was great,” said Weaver. “At that point I was really feeding off the crowd. But for some reason I wasn't nervous and didn't really have a whole lot of nerves and used my adrenalin to my advantage. It was really nice to pour that [birdie putt] in [at 17] and hear that roar.

"We were finally able to read the greens once the sun came out a little bit.”

Now in his third major, Weaver said he has become a little less overwhelmed with the atmosphere. His 2007 British Amateur victory got him into the '07 British Open at Carnoustie, where he missed the cut by two strokes, and last year's Masters (another missed cut). He has also played in three PGA Tour events and one European Tour event, earning low-amateur honors at the '07 Scottish Open.

"Confidence is everything," said Weaver, "and as long as I know I'm playing well and hitting good shots, I know I'll be okay."

McDowell, coming off a final-round 63 at the PGA Tour’s St. Jude Classic in Memphis, Tenn., last week that earned him a tie for seventh, is no stranger to owning a first-round lead in majors. Three years ago at Royal Liverpool (Hoylake), he shot a 66 for the outright lead and last year at Royal Birkdale, his 69 gave him a share of the lead. In both cases, he faded on the weekend, finishing T-61 at Hoylake and T-19 last year.

For the 29-year-old McDowell, a former first-team All-American at the University of Alabama-Birmingham, it’s all part of the maturation process. He admitted to having a deer-in-the-headlights attitude in his first U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2 in 2005. Four years later, his mindset has definitely changed.

“Obviously guys like Tiger and Padraig Harrington, major winners in the past few years, they’ve learned how to do it and prepare mentally for it,” said McDowell. “I’ve led a few majors after day one. It’s not really what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to position myself as well as I possibly can and compete on Sunday afternoon.”

Or, perhaps, into Monday.

After finishing play, McDowell was done for the day as all the scheduled morning-wave golfers from Thursday won’t get back onto the course for round two until at least Saturday morning. Forecasters are predicting more heavy rain for Saturday, which could push the scheduled Open conclusion into Monday.

That should give McDowell plenty of time to rest.

“I’ll be watching a bit of the [television] coverage this afternoon, seeing how the guys are getting around,” said McDowell. “I’ll be putting the feet up and relaxing.”

David Shefter is a USGA Digital Media staff writer. E-mail him with questions or comments at dshefter@usga.org.


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