RORY McIlroy feels the famous length and difficulty of Bethpage’s Black Course could play into his hands this week as the Northern Irishman targets a fifth Major Championship at the USPGA Championship.
The 30-year-old has been on superb form in 2019, with a win in the Players Championship on the US PGA Tour supplemented by a runner-up finish at the WGC-Mexico Championship and six further top 10s in the States.
Having claimed a top 10 when the US Open was played at Bethpage back in 2009, the two-time USPGA Championship winner will be on confident mood when the event – taking place in May for the first time since 1949 – gets underway at the beastly 7,459-yard par 70 course tomorrow (Thursday).
McIlroy, who is seeking a hat-trick when it comes to lifting the giant Sam Wanamaker trophy, said: “I’ve had a pretty good record in May. I’ve won a few tournaments, and I was a pretty big fan of this date change, moving this tournament back to May.
“I feel like going forward it’ll definitely lend itself to going to some new venues. It got a little hot in August in places like Southern Hills.
“Saying that, obviously we’ve got to deal with a little bit of chilliness up here, but at the same time, I think it gives the PGA of America more of a variety of courses to go to, which I think is a good thing.
“I think with the rain we’ve had the last couple of days, the length will definitely help. I’m just looking at the scorecard here, I actually wasn’t sure whether we were playing it as a par 70 or 71, so par-70, the seventh hole can obviously go from a par five to a par four.
“The two times we played the PGA Tour event here it was a par five, and then the US Open it was a par four.
“I mean, 7,500 yards, par 70, it’s a long golf course, and it plays even longer with the cold and wet conditions. Length is definitely going to be a big factor this week.”
Francesco Molinari is also feeling fresh having played just once since missing out on a second Major title at the Masters Tournament last month, while Shane Lowry – the only Rolex Series winner of the 2019 campaign following January’s Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship victory – is hoping to impress having claimed his best result in golf’s big four in 2018 at this event.
Francesco Molinari with his accurate driving and exquisite iron play is fancied by many to add to his Open Championship from Carnoustie, last summer, having been in contention at Augusta.
Molinari said: “I had a chunk of time off after the Masters so I’ve been at home practicing and trying to get ready for this week. I feel good, rested and ready to go.
“It’s different playing this event in May but obviously we’ll get used to it. It’s the same tournament, just a different date.
“Condition wise it might be a little bit different, especially judging by how it’s been the last few days in New York but it’s still a great event just as it has been in the past.
“I think I got my first top 10 in a Major in this event and obviously I’ve had a second place so it’s been a good Major for me compared to the other three. I guess the set-up of the course is pretty typical – thick rough and you need to hit fairways and greens.
“I’ve enjoyed the courses that we’ve played in the past. I played my first US Open here at Bethpage in 2009, so I’ve been trying to work off those memories as well.
“It’s a tough course, especially with the cold weather, it’s going to play very long. But it’s a great test of golf.”
Lowry came close to capturing the US Open at Oakmont in 2016 – when Dustin Johnson overcame a controversial ruling to break his duck in the Majors.
The Irishman is looking forward to getting to grips with Bethpage Black where Tiger took the US Open crown on the first municipal course to stage the historic event back in 2002.
Lowry, who won the WGC Bridgestone Invitational on another long par 70 at Firestone, in Ohio, in 2015, said: “My game’s alright, I’ve had a couple of weeks off and had a decent week a few weeks ago so confidence is high enough.
“Obviously it’s a tough, long golf course here this week and we’ll have to see how it plays out but I’m looking forward to the week.
“I played 11 holes today and it’s definitely long, but luckily enough this is the longest we’ll see it all week.
“The weather is supposed to warm up a little more and the rough won’t be as thick so I’ll get out tomorrow and see what it’s like then, but I’ll imagine it will play a bit shorter than it is now.
“It was about 100 degrees in Bellerive last year when we played this event and this year is obviously a lot colder – we’re up north here in New York, and at this time of the year.
“Personally for me, it feels like it’s come around very quickly. We had the Masters not too long ago, we’re here now and it’s hard to believe the US Open is less than a month away and then The Open is so close too. So the schedule is very much on top of you this year.
“I think this golf course is there for you, there’s not too much that’s tricky about it so for practice rounds I’m just getting out there to play it as much as I can.
“It’s long and it’s wet underfoot so playing too much out there will take a lot out of you so you just have to play as much as you feel you need to to know the golf course.”
The third Irishman to express his views on the course this week was Europe’s 2020 Ryder Cup captain Padraig Harrington, who won the 2008 USPGA Championship at Oaklands Hills – four years after helping Europe crush the USA in the Ryder Cup, in Detroit.
Harrington, who won back-to-back Majors that summer after winning The Open, at Carnoustie, said: “I’m coming off a broken wrist during the winter.
“It’s still not 100 per cent, but it doesn’t seem to be interfering too much with my golf. I’d like to have played a bit more coming into this week.”
Padraig, who missed the cut at Bethpage in 2009, but was tied eighth in the US Open in 2002, added: “I think a lot of players would have that going into Majors, that they feel like, I wouldn’t mind having another week or two. I certainly feel that way this time round.
“The goal for every major is to turn up and feel ready on the Monday, be prepared. I think circumstances have led to me just not feeling like that.
“I really feel like it’s the start of the year for me because the wrist break, I haven’t got up and running in any shape or form, and I certainly haven’t got into game mode at this stage.”