Rory, Tiger and Zach put on a solid show, but Bethpage Black stole the spotlight
By Stephanie Wei under FedEx Cup

The new BFFs

Since this was meant to be published yesterday, I’ll keep this concise and try to add to what you’ve already read and know. I was posting a bunch of my real-time opinions and analysis on Twitter. You know, like Tiger stepping out of the Port O’ Potty and not receiving a standing ovation like he did in 2002 for the same movement — the important details.

“I got a few claps, though,” Woods quipped after posting a scrappy three-under 68.

I was impressed with the crowds that made it out to Bethpage Black by 8:19am, and the 10th tee, no less. If you’re not familiar with the layout, the 10th is about a mile away from the clubhouse. It’s an understatement to call it a hike. Actually, walking the course literally feels like a hike. By the time the group reached No. 15, the crowds were almost comparable to the U.S. Open galleries. Then we reached the 17th, which has a stadium-like feel to it with the grandstands and boxes surrounding the green. It was packed.

I turned to Golf Digest’s Ashley Mayo, whom I had the pleasure of walking with in the first round, and said, “It’s Thursday before 11am. Apparently unemployment really is at an all-time high.” I’d forgotten that August is a light work month in NYC. It feels like everyone — by that, I mean, all the rich and fabulous — are out of town and sunning themselves in the Hamptons or Nantucket or Fisher’s Island, to name a few popular spots.

The atmosphere had already started to shift into the New-York gear as early as the par-3 14th, where there was a 10-15 minute back-up on the tee. I’d almost forgotten how much I enjoyed the crowds at Bethpage in 2009.

A fan standing behind the tee remarked loudly, “Keegan Bradley needs to speed it up. He wouldn’t be allowed to play Bethpage (at this pace). He’d be thrown off. Phil (Mickelson) passed thru 20 minutes ago.

“This is slower than a (typical) Saturday.”

A kid who appeared to be his son kept nudging him to quiet down. No, keep it coming. There’s nothing like the locals commenting on slow play. Clearly they won’t put up with it. More fans need to speak up about the slow-play problem on Tour.

Moving on.

I was amazed at how much The Barclays at Bethpage Black reminded me of the 2009 U.S. Open at Bethpage Black (except for me, three years later, I have a better seat now). It was eerily similar. I mean, yesterday did not feel like the first round of any other Barclays I’ve attended — this year is my fourth.

As I walked down the first fairway with a couple other scribes, we all sort of simultaneously commented on how crazy it was that this was the first round of The Barclays and how the atmosphere and buzz oddly reminded us of the 2009 U.S. Open (without the mud and rain). To even utter the tournaments in the same sentence seems like a slight to the U.S. Open, but it’s really not — it’s a compliment to Bethpage as an incredible venue, which produces a major-like feel.

I already felt that vibe as I was taking a cart shuttle out to the 10th tee before 8 in the morning. Just watching the flock of people make their way toward the same direction was very cool. I knew the marquee pairing would attract crowds, but I clearly underestimated NY fans and the draw of Bethpage.

The course is an amazing stage and the grandeur brings more excitement to the tournament. I was here in 2009 as a fan (and had started this site just two or three months earlier–which is kind of crazy when I stop for a moment to reflect and realize what an incredible journey it’s been) and I braved the mud and rain every day, and despite the weather problems, the greatness factor was still there. I’m not explaining it very well right now, but let’s just say, Congressional doesn’t conjure the same feelings (no offense).

What made it even more fun to watch was the setup. I’m glad the Tour didn’t decided to try and go all U.S. Open-style. Well, they wouldn’t have done that because they want people to see birdies. The course is still a beast, though. Of the threesome, Rory McIlroy, Zach Johnson and Tiger, Rory was clearly the longest driver, which gave him a massive advantage on the back nine (he teed off no. 10).

Rory came out bombing drives and attacking pins. He also was missing good looks for birdie. Funny thing was the first putt he made on No. 13 — a downhill 30-footer — was the longest attempt he had in four holes. He threw darts at the first few pins, which are considered tough because they’re so brutally long. But again, he couldn’t convert the putts for birdie. He made the turn at three-under, but he easily could have been six-under. He was playing much better than he was scoring.

Meanwhile, Zach was keeping up with the big boys…score-wise. The discrepancy between Rory’s and Zach’s drives were absurd. I mean, I’d guess Rory hit it 60-70 yards longer on some holes. Zach deserves more credit than he gets for minding his own game and shooting three-under 68 in the opening round. On the first nine he was playing better than he was scoring, as well, but it seemed like it was because of the distance disadvantage more than anything. Okay, his putting stroke was a little shaky the first few holes and he missed a few from the 8-10 feet range, which is usually his bread and butter. Zach was attacking all day, though, because well, he had to in order to score. His boring golf wasn’t so boring on Thursday.

Tiger certainly opened the round playing Bethpage like it was the U.S. Open. I’m not sure if it was out of habit or what, but it was bizarre to see him reel back and hit 3-wood off Nos 11 and 12. He was playing extremely conservative, which was weird. It was like he had a game plan plotted out, but it was the one he usually uses at the U.S. Open when it’s held at Bethpage and forgot this was The Barclays, initially. After he dropped a 15-footer for birdie on 14, he seemed to come back to his senses and then started playing more aggressively.

“Yeah, it was good,” said McIlroy when asked to assess Tiger’s round. “He didn’t start off great, but he sort of weathered the storm a bit, and he got to 3-under without any bogeys, and bogeyed 6, but came back and birdied 7.  He got his way around the golf course like a true pro, even if he hadn’t got his best game with him.  He still got it around, which was good.”

That was my take. On the other hand, Rory left a few out there. He took one more stroke than Zach and Tiger, but certainly played the best — rather his ballstriking was superior.

Ready for round 2? Definitely. I’m also expecting thirsty fans and U.S. Open-size galleries this afternoon. If it’s anything near as fun as it was yesterday (until the incident on No. 5), then it’ll be a blast. Wait, what am I talking about? — we’re just getting started.

(AP Photos/Henny Ray Abrams)