The first of the FedEx Cup play-off events is The Barclays, in which backing big-hitters off the tee is expected to pay dividends
This will be the 46th staging of The Barclays, originally called the Westchester Classic. It has been the first leg of the FedEx Cup play-off series since its inception in 2007. It is a limited-field event with the top 125 players on the year-long FedEx Cup points list qualifying for this week's event, with the top 100 on the list at the end of this tournament contesting next week's Deutsche Bank Championship.
Bethpage State Park - Black Course, Farmingdale, New York
Par 71, 7,468 yards
Created by renowned designer A W Tillinghurst, the Bethpage Black Course opened in 1936. In 2002 it became the first public course to host the US Open when Tiger Woods, who was the only player to break par for the week, won by three shots from Phil Mickelson. It was again the venue in 2009 when Lucas Glover won by two strokes from Mickelson, David Duval and Ricky Barnes. On both occasions the event was played in wet conditions (particularly in 2009 when the event ran into Monday).
At 7,468 yards it is an extremely long track but now plays to a par of 71 compared to 70 at the two US Opens as the seventh hole is now a par five. The par-three 17th should be fun this year as it has been set up like the par-three 16th at Scottsdale, home of the Waste Management Phoenix Open, with the green surrounded by corporate grandstands accommodating 4,000 spectators.
Last Five Winners
2011 - Dustin Johnson -19 (54 holes)
2010 - Matt Kuchar -12 (play-off)
2009 - Heath Slocum -9
2008 - Vijay Singh -8 (play-off)
2007 - Steve Stricker -16
What will it take to win the Barclays?
Good driving will be the key this week as taking advantage of the three par fives will make all the difference. With relentlessly tough long par fours, scoring opportunities are extremely limited. Getting it out there off the tee and finding the fairways will be very important, particularly on the three long holes. Setting up eagle/birdie chances there will in all probability be what wins the event. Total driving is the stat to study this week.
Is there an identikit winner?
Given that The Barclays is now a nomadic event, visiting different courses in the New York area, past event course form is non-existent but there is one pattern emerging. Outsiders have a decent record, which makes a lot of sense.
If you are sitting around the 100 mark on the FedEx points list entering the event you really do not have anything to lose and plenty of those around that mark will just be delighted to be here as this would have been their season-long goal, with anything else a bonus. Last year's renewal was shortened to 54 holes and dominated by Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar, but ‘rags’ contended the previous three.
Then-unheralded Martin Laird really should have won in 2010 but three-putted the final green before losing to Kuchar in a play-off. Heath Slocum surprised just about everyone when he held off Ernie Els, Steve Stricker, Tiger Woods and Padraig Harrington by a solitary stroke in 2009 and all sorts of outsiders contested the 2008 renewal, with the likes of Kevin Sutherland (lost in the play-off), Kevin Streelman, Mathew Goggin and Ben Curtis all going close at huge odds.
Do not be afraid to back a big outsider ranked towards the bottom of the standings with nothing to lose, especially if they bomb it off the tee.
How impressive was Rory McIlroy at Kiawah Island? It was a magnificent performance and far more imposing than his US Open victory last year. He slipped the field there and had a comfortable ride home, but his win at the US PGA Championship was exceptional. Not only did he show complete composure in the heat of battle but also handled the tricky windy conditions very well too. It was an awesome performance and he quite rightly heads the market this week, but there could be a reaction to that victory and he is passed over at a single-figure price, as is the man vying with him for favouritism.
Tiger Woods is far from the clinical Mr Reliable of years gone by and has now gone AWOL in each of the last two Majors from pole position at halfway. But there is little doubt he is back in fine form and of the two, he is the one to be more interested in, although he is readily passed up at the price.
Bubba Watson has had an outstanding season so far with his first Major safely tucked away thanks to victory at Augusta in April. Now up to seventh in the Official World Rankings and fifth in the FedEx Cup points standings, Bubba is a consistent performer due another win, playing on a course that should suit his style. He finished tied 18th in the 2009 US Open here, will love the New York fans and looks over-priced at 28.
Phil Mickelson should have won the 2009 US Open here having hit the front after eagling the par-five 13th hole, but just as he had at another Tillinghurst track, Winged Foot in 2006, he finished the event tardily and just came up short. The New Yorkers love Phil the Thrill and given he is sponsored by Barclays, if he is to pop up and surprise at a big price this could be the week. He was a bit of a loose cannon off the tee again at Kiawah but is always capable of finding form from somewhere and at a big price could be worth chancing again.
Graham DeLaet bombs it miles off the tee and is one of those outsiders with nothing to lose. And at odds of 408 you are not risking losing much either.