Now that the U.S. Open at Pinehurst is in the past, it's time for the golfers to get primed for the British Open next month. The first stop is this week's Barclay Classic, the event formerly known as the Buick Classic. This event is always within a week of the second major championship, either the week before or the week after. Westchester Country Club is the course for the Barclays Classic, and it is a very solid venue all the way around. Many of the world's best players make their way to this event, and this year will be no different.
Sergio Garcia and Vijay Singh have had a great deal of success at this event in recent years, and they come into this week as the two highest-ranked golfers in the field. Garcia is the defending champion this week after having a wonderful week at Westchester in 2004. Last year, Sergio found himself in a three-way tie for the lead after 72 holes with Padraig Harrington and Rory Sabbatini. On the third playoff hole, Garcia sank a birdie putt for the victory. Sergio finished the week at -10, and it was his second win at Westchester Country Club. He also won this event in 2001.
Vijay Singh has also won this event twice before, with his first ever PGA Tour win coming here in 1993. Singh and Garcia will definitely be the favorites this week and for great reason. They have dominated this event over the last decade. Ernie Els has played this event 10 out of the last 11 years, but he will not be teeing it up this year. Els is the only back-to-back winner of Barclays(Buick) Classic, but he will more than likely be absent from tournament golf until the British Open at St. Andrews.
Even though Singh and Garcia have played so well at Westchester in the past decade, they may be taking a backseat to Ryan Moore for the lead story of the week. Moore, who had one of the best seasons ever as an amateur in 2004, turned pro earlier this week. He forfeited his chance to play in the British Open and PGA Championship to chase his dream of being a professional golfer. Moore will be teeing it up for the first time ever as a professional at the Barclays Classic on Thursday. There is no doubt he will have huge expectations, and it will be interesting to see how he handles the entire week.
Other golfers in the top 15 that will be playing at Westchester this week include Chris DiMarco, Kenny Perry, and Padraig Harrington. These guys may get overlooked, but all three are certainly capable of having great weeks. Perry and Harrington have already won on the PGA Tour this year, and DiMarco has a couple runner-up finishes in marquee events. DiMarco and Harrington both missed the cut at the U.S. Open last week at Pinehurst, and Perry finished in a tie for 23rd.
Other notables to keep an eye on at Westchester are Jim Furyk, Justin Leonard, and Fred Couples. Furyk has had a great deal of success at Westchester over the years, but he has never tasted victory there. He lost in a playoff in 1998 for his best finish in this event. Justin Leonard has been very streaky this year to say the least. He only has two top ten finishes, and those were the events he won. Couples hasn't played very much in 2005, but he has been on a hot streak as of late. Couples was the runner-up at the Memorial earlier this month, and he tied for 15th last week in the U.S. Open.
As I mentioned earlier, Westchester Country Club is a wonderful golf course that will test the golfer's entire game. It measures 6,839 yards in distance and par is 71. Westchester isn't the longest course around, but the rough could easily be longer than it was at Pinehurst. It definitely sets up as a U.S. Open-style course, so any score in the 60s will put the players in solid position. The last two holes at Westchester aren't that intimidating off the tee, but they are both very tricky and require accuracy. The 17th hole only measures 374 yards, but it's entirely uphill. The golfers need to put the ball in the fairway because the approach shot is crucial. There is a deep bunker in front of the green a devastating dropoff behind the green.
The finishing hole is a par-5 that plays 526 yards from the tee. It don't sound very long, but it is also deceiving. The tee shot must be long enough to make it to the dogleg. From there, players can attempt to go for the green in two. The risk can definitely pay off, but it can also cost the leaders a victory late on Sunday. There is a bunker 35 yards in front of the green that seems to collect a lot of second shots. That provides a very tough shot to get up-and-down for birdie. While it's still a birdie hole for the most part, bogey definitely isn't out of the question at the 18th.
I am going to keep my picks short and sweet this week. I am going with the always-trusty Jim Furyk. He has played awesome the past few months, and I think that will continue this week. This course requires accuracy off the tee and a smart approach the rest of the way in. I think these two things are Jim Furyk's strengths, and he should be in the winner's circle on Sunday evening. My "sleeper" pick is Tim Clark. Clark has played very well in his last few events on the PGA Tour, including a tie for third at Pinehurst last week. He seems to play very well on the tougher courses, and I think Westchester will fit his game nicely.
The weather should stay out of the player's way this week. Thursday and Friday will be a little cooler, with highs in the upper-70s. The highs for the weekend are supposed to be in the upper-80s. The players will be battling it out for a total purse of $5.75 million, with a little over a million going to the winner. There are several big names playing this week, and there are some fan favorites teeing it up as well. The event formerly known as the Buick Classic may not be exciting as the U.S. Open was this past weekend, but it should still provide golf fans with a great tournament to watch while the U.S. Women's Open is on commercial. The Barclays Classic will be televised on USA and ABC at the following times:
Thu 4-6:00pm ET USA Fri 4-6:00pm ET USA Sat 3-6:00pm ET ABC Sun 3-6:30pm ET ABC