TOUR Insider: Buckle up for plenty of excitement at The Barclays

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August 22, 2012
Fred Albers, PGATOUR.COM Correspondent

FARMINGDALE, N.Y. -- Fasten your seat belts, my friends. We're in for a bumpy ride this week on the PGA TOUR.

Depending on if you are playing or watching, this is either one of the great weeks of the season or a grind that will test your patience.

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We are in the presence of architect A.W. Tillinghast.

The man with a soup strainer of a mustache always delivers a man-sized course, whether it's Winged Foot or San Francisco Golf Club. Tillinghast slaps a player in the face on the first tee and then seemingly extends a handshake of congratulations on the 18th green.

The Black Course at Bethpage State Park might be his best work. It tortured golfers during a pair of rainy U.S. Opens and now PGA TOUR players get their first FedExCup Playoffs experience on the difficult layout.

It's a visually stunning layout. Every time I'm on the property, I pause for a moment by the tee at the fourth.

It's a "three-shotter" as Tillinghast referred to the uphill 517-yard par 5. It's an uphill hole with Tillinghast's signature cross-bunker lurking 338 yards away. It's not just a bunker, it's a diagonal chasm of sand set against a backdrop of oak trees to the right and scruff to the left.

Magnificent.

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FedExCup standings
The PGA TOUR enters the first week of the FedExCup Playoffs at The Barclays. The field will then be cut to the top 100 players in the standings for next week's Deutsche Bank Championship. Here are the top five players this week:
1 Tiger Woods
2 Jason Dufner
3 Rory McIlroy
4 Zach Johnson
5 Bubba Watson

Players have the option to reach the green in two shots or lay up to the right for the optimum angle into the green. The farther a player lands his drive to the left, the closer the cross-bunker comes into play. The more the drive leaks to the right, the hazard lessens but so does the chance of reaching the green with the second shot.

The problems continue at the green complex, which features a putting surface sloped from front to back. That's right, the green races away from the players' approach.

It might just be the best par 5 players see all season.

The 15th hole is the hardest on the course. A dogleg left, which can stretch 459 yards, it plays uphill to the most severe green on the property. The putting surface has two tiers and runs from back left to front right.

I watched Tiger Woods flush a 5-iron at the flagstick in the final round of the 2009 U.S. Open only to stare in disbelief as the approach one-hopped the green and led to a bogey that ended his championship aspirations.

There'll be more of those odd looks of disbelief this week at The Barclays.

So thank you, Tilly, and thank you, Barclays. I'm going to enjoy every step as I walk the property because I get to announce shots this week and not have to play them.

OBSERVATIONS

Undulations: At first glace the greens on the Black Course don't seem intimidating. With the exception of the 15th, there are few undulations. That's because they're unnecessary. There is so much slope on the greens, undulations would have been too severe a test.

Fairways: Some holes have been shortened since the U.S. Open but fairways remain tight and the rough is still significant. The major change from 2009 to this week is the weather. The last U.S. Open was a march through mud, but this week the forecast calls for favorable conditions and the course will play much faster. The greens were receptive during practice rounds and it will be interesting to see how firm they are allowed to become as the tournament progresses.

Atmosphere: There will be passion on and off the course. The New York-area fans embrace this tournament and this golf course. Sergio Garcia was mocked here during the 2002 U.S. Open for re-gripping his club while Phil Mickelson was serenaded on his birthday. The par-3 17th hole figures to be electric. Tournament officials have surrounded the hole with corporate chalets creating a great atmosphere.

Rough: The ryegrass off the fairway measures less than four inches but is very penal as it strangles the clubface. Players will be tempted to lay up off the tee but the Black Course is 7,468 yards and the greens have too much slope to accept long irons. I think they will keep the greens receptive to accept shots out of the rough, allowing players to be aggressive and hit drivers off the tee.

Winner, winner: I like Tiger Woods, again. He has a history here, with a U.S. Open victory in 2002 and he may have won in 2009 except he got the bad end of the tee times in the opening round. Tiger has greatly improved off the tee to the point where he is fourth in total driving. He continues to struggle with his scoring irons, ranking 135th on approach shots from 50 to 125 yards but there's a reason he leads the TOUR in both money won and FedExCup points. Tiger has reclaimed the ability to score. He leads the TOUR with a stroke average of 68.91. That's why he'll win The Barclays.

Fred Albers is a course reporter for SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio. For more information on SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio, click here.

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