When 156 of the world's best amateur and professional golfers tee it up at the 112th United States Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco in two weeks, the usual cast of favorites will be in attendance to stake their claim for one of golf's greatest prizes.
Tiger Woods, fresh off his second win of the year at the Memorial Tournament will be expected to do well. Last year's US Open champion and the No. 2 player in the world, Rory McIlroy, will be a popular pick to repeat, despite the fact he has missed the cut in the past three events he has entered. And Phil Mickelson, even though he withdrew from the Memorial with what he described as mental fatigue, will also be a player to watch.
What do those three have in common? They've all won major championships. Tiger has 14 of them. Lefty has four majors to his credit. And McIlroy grabbed his aforementioned first in 2011.
But, who are the best players in the field who have yet to win a major?
There are a couple obvious choices. And a few other players who are "due" to win their first soon. Here are the top five golfers at the 2012 US Open without a major championship title.
The No. 1 player in the world, Luke Donald, hasn't won a major championship yet.
It's kind of hard to believe when you consider what a tremendous talent he is. Donald has held the top spot in the Official World Golf Ranking for 47 weeks and he is currently in his fourth stint at No. 1 as he battles with Rory McIlroy for the title of world's best golfer.
The 34-year-old Donald reclaimed his position atop the OWGR with an impressive win at the BMW PGA Championship just a couple weeks ago.
Donald has five PGA Tour wins and seven European Tour victories. But when it comes to the majors, the best that he has managed is a T3—twice—at the 2005 Masters and the 2006 PGA Championship. He has six top-10s in majors including four top-five finishes.
His best finish at the US Open? He was tied for 12th place in 2006 at Winged Foot.
Donald was T45 at Congressional last year, so he'll be looking to get off to a fast start at the Olympic Club, where I think he has the game to play well.
I believe Donald can survive the test that at a US Open typically offers—where it's OK to make pars and more pars. He's putting very well right now and if the impressive final-round average he's been boasting in 2012 can hold up under the pressure of the moment, he'll make a strong run at his first major championship.
When is Lee Westwood going to win his first major championship?
That's a question that's been floating around since he captured the first of his 37 professional victories in 1996.
Westwood has done everything but win a major.
He's been named Player of the Year three times. He's been on the past seven European Ryder Cup teams. He's been the No. 1 player in the world. But he doesn't have a major championship to his credit.
Westy has come close, though. He has 13 top-10s in major championships including two second-place finishes just two years ago—at the Masters and the British Open. He obviously has the talent to win anywhere, but does he have the mettle to play his best when it matters the most?
So far, no.
But if he can survive the test that the Olympic Club offers and if he can plod along for three days to keep himself in the hunt, he'll have yet another chance to prove his doubters wrong. At 39 years old, I wouldn't go so far to say his time is running out, but the clock is ticking on his legitimate chances.
Steve Stricker is one of the nicest guys on the PGA Tour. That's why some say he lacks the killer instinct necessary to win a major championship. Others say his game just isn't built for major championship pressure.
I say that's nonsense.
Strick has proven he can win golf tournaments. He has 20 professional victories to his credit, including 12 PGA Tour wins. And it's not like he has disappeared during the majors. He has managed nine top-10s in the big events during his career, including a second-place finish at the PGA Championship in 1998.
I know—that was 14 years ago.
But Stricker, even at 45 years old, is still one of the best players in the world. And he's a patient player, which is a characteristic that should serve him well at the Olympic Club, where it will be a mental test as much as it is a physical one.
I wouldn't say he's playing the best golf of his career right now. He has had a somewhat limited 2012 schedule—playing in nine events with four top-10 finishes thus far, including a win in Hawaii back in January. But he more than has the ability to get hot and make a run at the US Open.
Matt Kuchar has been knocking it around on the PGA Tour for 12 years now.
But it hasn't been until recently that he has started to "come into his own," as they say. And that would include his play in the major championships.
Kuch managed two top-10s in majors in 2010—at the US Open and the PGA Championship—and he nearly won the Masters a couple months ago, eventually finishing tied for third at Augusta. He has five top-10s in 12 events this year, including a win at what many consider the year's fifth major, The Players Championship.
That is some impressive golf.
Thus, he is currently the No. 6 ranked player in the world with a PGA Tour-leading scoring average and, without question, the game to succeed at the Olympic Club.
Ever since his tied-for-fourth performance at the 1998 British Open at Royal Birkdale, Justin Rose has been discussed as a major championship contender.
Rose was the low amateur that year and since he turned professional shortly thereafter, he has carded five more top-10 finishes in majors, including two at the US Open.
Rose has worked his way into the No. 7 position on the Official World Golf Ranking with a win at the WGC-Cadillac Championship and a T8 at the Masters this year. He also finished in eighth place at the Memorial Tournament this past week.
Rose is a player that is improving with age. And like Lee Westwood, he has wins all over the world—just not as many of them.
There is no question he is one of the best players in the US Open field—and certainly one of the best without a major championship victory.