FARMINGDALE, N.Y. -- Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy playing in the same group. Bethpage Black, a notoriously tough track on Long Island made even more famous by the two U.S. Opens it has hosted in the last decade.
As the playoffs for the FedEx Cup get under way Thursday at The Barclays, the buzz is bigger than usual.
"Playing here at Bethpage Black is incredible," said Woods, who won his second U.S. Open title on this public course in 2002. "Two U.S. Opens here, and this is all the golf course you want. It's a great venue, great fans, and just a great environment to compete at. You know, it's basically like a U.S. Open."
It doesn't look much different from three years ago, except that only a few hundred fans were at the far end of the course watching the pro-am on Wednesday. And the sun was shining, a change from the rain that interrupted the U.S. Open in 2002 and forced a Monday finish in 2009.
The course also is playing to a par 71, with the seventh hole returned to a par 5.
The Barclays is the first of four tournaments in the playoffs, when the field (125 players qualified for the opening event) gets whittled down each week until only 30 reach the Tour Championship, and the winner walks away with a $10 million bonus.
Even so, this one has a different feel.
Part of that is because of the golf course.
"The whole place is just big," said Zach Johnson, who will join Woods and McIlroy as the middle man of the top three players from the FedEx Cup standings. "I mean, the property is big. Everything about it is just big. Elevated tee shots, uphill tee shots. I think it's great. It's right out in front of you. It's not hidden. There's certain holes you've just got to get off with a great shot, starting at the tee box through the green. And that's what separates a championship course from an OK course.