By Andrew Both
FARMINGDALE, New York (Reuters) – Rain and the Bethpage Black Course go hand in hand when the world’s best players visit so it was perhaps appropriate that the PGA Championship week started cold and soggy on a dreary Long Island Monday.
Tiger Woods, the 2002 U.S. Open champion here, was among those who braved the intermittent rain, the 15-times major champion playing nine holes in the morning in temperatures more normal for March than late spring.
But the course and driving range were all but deserted by mid-afternoon on an unusually quiet start to a championship that is beginning a new era after being played for nearly half a century in August.
The expectation that it would be the first major to feature all of the top 100 players in the world were dashed when number five Justin Thomas withdrew, citing a lingering right wrist injury.
The 2017 champion and former world number one has been carrying the injury since March, when he injured the wrist striking a tree trunk on his follow-through with a swing.
He could have played this week, but decided to be cautious rather than risk aggravating the injury with two more majors just around the corner, next month’s U.S. Open at Pebble Beach and July’s British Open at Royal Portrush.
“Obviously, as a past champion, this tournament is extra special to me,” American Thomas, 26, said on Twitter.
“It consistently has the strongest field in golf and I’m disappointed to not be among those competing this year but I’m optimistic about a return in the near future.”
Thomas was replaced by fellow American Kelly Kraft.
Bethpage gained a reputation when it hosted the 2002 and 2009 U.S. Opens as a long and demanding slog, and though the lush rough is likely to present a challenge again this week, 2009 U.S. Open champion Lucas Glover predicted some good scores.
“It’s exactly what it looks like, thick, wet, just that sticky bluegrassy rye,” Glover said of the rough during a news conference, at the same time adding that it was not uniformly difficult.
“It was spotty. It was what you’d expect coming into the growing season up here.”
As for the scoring, Glover expected some pretty good rounds, without exactly going out on a limb.
“If it’s calm and stays soft, there’s going to be some low numbers,” he said.
“I’m not going to say it’s going to be a birdie-fest. That’s hard to predict.
“There’s so many factors that go into (what the scores are like), wind, how they set it up, all that stuff.”
Woods and Glover won their respective U.S. Opens here in rainy conditions, and it was so wet in 2009 that the event did not finish until Monday.
But the latest forecast calls for a diminishing chance of rain as the tournament progresses this week, a 30% chance on Thursday, 20% on Friday and 10% on Saturday.
Bethpage might finally reveal itself in bright sunshine.
(Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; Editing by Ken Ferris)