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US Open Play Begins at Bethpage - 2002-06-13

Many of the world's top golfers are in Farmingdale, New York for the 102nd U.S. Open, the second grand slam tournament of the season.

The U.S. Open is being played on a public course for the first time in its history. The Black course at Bethpage State Park is also the longest in U.S. Open history at 6,565 meters. The fairways are not much wider than a two-lane country road and are lined on both sides by thick rough that is ankle-high.

The Black Course has been loosely compared with the Old Course at St. Andrews, Scotland, which is regarded as the birthplace of the sport. Golf Digest magazine associate editor Matt Rudy says it is possible for players to card low scores at the U.S. Open if the conditions are right.

"The greens are pretty flat," he said. "It is sort of like St. Andrews. If the wind blows, that is a very difficult golf course to make a good score on. But if it calms down, someone can go really low (score well). I think this course is similar. It is long and difficult. And the rough is very penalizing."

World number one ranked Tiger Woods describes the layout as the toughest par-70 course he has ever played. But Rudy says that fact may work to Tiger's advantage by effectively eliminating the shorter hitters.

"Tiger is the strongest and the longest of all the players," he said. "So anytime you make a course harder and longer, you are actually just reducing the number of guys who can challenge him. So he is definitely the favorite."

Woods is a big favorite to win, especially since he has won six of the last 10 major championships. Woods will try to become the first player since Jack Nicklaus in 1972 to win the first two legs of the Grand Slam. Woods already has won his own version of the slam - four in a row, just not in a calendar year.

The U.S. Open begins Thursday, and the final round is Sunday.