The 2012 Barclays tees off on Thursday morning from the the Black Course at Bethpage State Park, and one of the best fields all Tour season will play on Long Island for the first leg of the FedEx Cup playoffs. While the Tour may not have Bethpage playing as difficult as the USGA's diabolical setup, the course should still present a major championship test. The Barclays has recently rotated around different venues in the New York area, from Plainfield last year to the highly-criticized Liberty National to the traditional track at Westchester. Bethpage Black could be considered the class of those venues, and the top 125 players in the FedEx Cup standings will begin their push for the $10 million pot at the end of the four-tournament stretch in Atlanta.
A loaded playoff field means there's players worth watching in almost every group, but the Tour put one threesome together that stands out above the rest. Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy will play together during the first two days, and the inevitable comparisons of "Rory's the next Tiger" will be a constant talking point. The third wheel in the group is Zach Johnson, who may have just had the most consistent Summer on Tour.
Playing two groups ahead of Woods and McIlroy will be Phil Mickelson. The lefty has had his own tortured history in the New York area, capturing second at the Open at both Bethpage and Winged Foot. He'll play alongside Luke Donald, who spent most of the year at No. 1 in the world rankings. Sandwiched in between the Woods and Mickelson groups will be an American Ryder Cup threesome of Steve Stricker, Matt Kuchar, and Keegan Bradley. Stricker did not qualify on points but he's almost certainly a captain's pick. That cluster of three straight tee times should create a gallery madhouse on the course.
Stay with SB Nation New York for more news and updates from Bethpage throughout the week. Visit SB Nation golf for all your FedEx Cup news and analysis.