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Phil Mickelson said the cheering crowds he heard at the 17th hole during the 2002 U.S. Open at New York’s Bethpage Black course were as loud as he’s heard in 20 years in professional golf.
That may be topped this week at Bethpage State Park on Long Island, where the Barclays tournament starts the U.S. PGA Tour’s FedExCup playoffs. The par-3 17th hole will be surrounded by grandstands to create an amphitheater setting that will accommodate thousands of fans similar to the environment at the raucous 16th hole at the Phoenix Open.
“It’s such a great setting for golf,” Mickelson said during a July 30 conference call. “To have that kind of stadium effect is going to be really special for the players, something that we’ll really remember.”
Mickelson, 42, and the rest of the Tour’s best players tee off tomorrow in the opening round of the four-day tournament. It’s the first in a four-event playoff series that ends with a $10 million bonus for the champion.
Bethpage’s 17th will probably be the course’s most popular hole this week, drawing about 4,500 fans to a location that tournament director Peter Mele has dubbed the “Black Hole.”
The 207-yard par-3 is lined with hospitality venues on each side and a steep hillside behind the green will also be filled with fans. While the hole’s total capacity is far less than the approximately 20,000 that cram into the double-decker bleachers at the 16th hole in Arizona, Mele noted that New Yorkers have little problem making noise.
“It’s a pretty intimidating hole,” Mele said.
A decade ago, on the Saturday of the first of two U.S. Opens at Bethpage, Mickelson drained a 25-foot birdie putt to pull within two shots of eventual winner Tiger Woods, and boisterous fans were trying to lift the left-hander to his first major title. While he finished second and didn’t win his first major until the 2004 Masters, Mickelson said he never forgot Bethpage, where he also finished as runner-up in 2009.
“It was louder than just about anything I’ve ever experienced on tour,” Mickelson said.
The 17th-hole galleries at the Opens passed the time with football crowd-style chants, cheered when vendors delivered beer kegs to concession stands and shouted occasional insults after shots or putts they deemed unworthy of applause.
“When you’re playing up here in New York, it’s pretty loud,” Dustin Johnson, the 2011 Barclays winner at New Jersey’s Plainfield Country Club, said in a press conference on Aug. 21. “It’s a lot of fun.”
Mickelson comes into the Barclays ranked 14th in the season-long FedExCup points standings. The top 125 players qualified for the playoff opener, which was shortened to 54 holes from 72 last year due to hurricane Irene.
Woods, the PGA Tour’s only three-time winner this season, leads the standings, 159 points ahead of fellow American Jason Dufner and 567 points ahead of PGA Championship winner Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland.
Woods and McIlroy are the tournament’s co-favorites, with 8-1 odds to win, and are paired together in the same group for the first two rounds. Luke Donald, Justin Rose, Adam Scott, Bubba Watson and Steve Stricker have 20-1 odds.
A two-time winner of the points title, Woods failed to qualify for the 2011 playoffs for the first time since the format was introduced five years ago. He was winless in full- field U.S. events in 2011 for the second straight season, with two top-10 finishes.
Woods, 36, rebounded this season with wins at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, the Memorial Tournament and the AT&T National, an event the 14-time major tournament winner hosts at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Maryland.
After the Barclays, which has rotated to courses around the New York and northern New Jersey area since 2007, the field will be cut to 100 players for next week’s Deutsche Bank Championship at the TPC Boston course in Norton, Massachusetts.
The field will then get reduced to the top 70 players for the BMW Championship at Crooked Stick Golf Club. It’s the first time Crooked Stick will host a PGA Tour event since John Daly won the 1991 PGA Championship at the Carmel, Indiana, course.
After a one-week break, the remaining 30 players on the points list will contend for the FedExCup title at the Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta.
A year ago, Bill Haas won the tournament and bonus when he beat Hunter Mahan in a three-hole playoff that included Haas saving par with a watery wedge shot from the edge of a lake on the second playoff hole.
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