BARCLAYS CLASSIC INSIDE TRACK
Our man at the course Harry Emanuel with his pre-tournament analysis of the Barclays Classic at Westchester CC this week.
The FedEx Cup play offs start this week at Westchester Country Club with 144 players qualifying. The field will total 138 as Tiger Woods, Jose Maria Olazabal, Bernhard Langer, Stephen Ames, Jason Bohn and Ryan Palmer have withdrawn.
Westchester is an old style golf course. Not long by PGA tour standards at 6,839 yards it has undulating fairways, doglegs, many elevation changes form tee to fairway and then fairway to green. The greens are multi-tiered and slope heavily from front to back.
Ian Poulter described it as a “more English style parkland course” and the bentgrass fairways and Poa annua greens are certainly more European style than the Bermuda grass players often face in the United States.
In fact four of the last six winners have honed their skills on the European Tour and once again we could well see another non American winner.
In the past the tournament at Westchester has been played in June when traditionally the course plays hard and fast. With the new August date in mind a new irrigation system was added last year so that the course would be in the same condition as in June.
To add to the English feel it has rained heavily at the beginning of the week and 2005 champion Padraig Harrington believes: ‘The golf course will play substantially different and the there will be a lot more drivers off the tee and longer second shots to softer greens. I can’t quite tell whether it’s easier or harder.”
Both is the answer. It will be easier off the tee as the ball will hold better in the fairways and as last week’s winner Brandt Snedeker pointed out: “The greens are obviously going to be soft, so that will give us a chance to go at pins we wouldn’t normally go at.”
On the flip side the soft greens mean that controlling the spin on the ball will be more difficult and often the first bounce is more unpredictable.
KJ Choi noted that the rough “is very long and very hard”, a point echoed by tournament Director Peter Mele who described it as “pretty nasty” and at over four inches long the players will need to be accurate off the tee.
It will be important to keep the ball on the fairway in order to maintain accurate distance control into the slopey greens as keeping the ball below the hole will be crucial to good scoring.
There are no bail out areas around the greens and many are protected by false fronts, deep bunkers and heavy rough so accurate iron play and scrambling will be at a premium.
Last year there was a lot of rain in the run up to the tournament so it will not be totally new to the players. The sun is expected to shine later in the week and the course should dry out as the tournament goes on.
The course starts unusually with a par three. It is followed by three short par fours and a par five. This gives the players an excellent opportunity to feel their way into the round and pick up some early birdies.
With another short par four and easily-reachable par five at the end of the front nine, players will expect to go out under par.
The second nine in contrast has four of the most difficult five holes in a stretch that run from the eleventh to sixteenth. Any player getting through them in level par will certainly pick up a stroke on the field.
For a change the finishing holes are ranked amongst the easiest on tour and it is possible to finish three under par. Indeed Harrington won the title with an eagle putt in 2005 so it is a tournament that could go down to the wire.
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