The U.S. Open, "Golf's Toughest Test," starts today from the Lake Course at the Olympic Club in San Francisco, California.
A total of 156 players will try to pass the test this weekend and win the year's second major and the $1.4 million paycheck that comes with it.
But it won't be an easy feat to achieve. Players face the tough question on whether the toughest stretch at Olympic is the opening six holes, or all 18 of them.
The greens have been resurfaced, and they roll so fast that it's difficult to get the ball close. Also some areas off the green have been shaved to form large collection areas.
A slight miss could send the ball some 30 yards away. One thing is for sure here, there won't be a repeat of Rory McIlroy's record-setting 16-under 268 posted last year at Congressional.
But that is just the course. Let's take a look at what the experts around the web are saying about the world's top players heading into the U.S. Open.
From James Achenbach at Golfweek.com:
Jim Furyk "Has the perfect game for Olympic, where scores will be high and pars will be a valuable commodity."
Furyk is second in driving accuracy, third in proximity to the hole and fourth in scoring average on the PGA Tour, three very key stats to a win this weekend.
He is on a rebound year on which he has been playing very well as of late with a fourth-place finish at the Crowne Plaza Invitational and a T13 at the Memorial.
Earlier in the year he finished T2 at the Transitions tournament and 11th at The Masters.
He is a former U.S. Open champion who just happens to be peaking at the right time. He could very well be contending on Sunday once again.
From Michael Whitmer at Boston.com:
"If you’re looking for a dark-horse pick when the 112th US Open starts Thursday at the Olympic Club, you could do a lot worse than [Jason] Dufner, especially after hearing him say how well the course sets up for him and that the US Open is the major he’s most likely to win. It’s a tournament that requires and rewards patience and mental preparation, not to mention pinpoint ball-striking. Dufner, if recent form holds, could be lining himself up for a big week."
He has two wins and a second-place finishes in his last four starts among his five top-10 finishes this year in 14 events. That is part of the incredible year he is having, especially the last month.
Dufner has also contended in the past two majors. He lost the lead late and then the playoff to Keegan Bradley at last year’s PGA Championship, and had a share of the 36-hole lead at this year’s Masters.
If someone has everything going his way and is on the right path towards winning this weekend, it's Dufner.
From John Hawkins at GolfChannel.com:
"He hits fairways, hits greens and avoids bogeys, which won him The Players and could make him a serious factor here. [Matt] Kuchar has the perfect temperament for this championship: even keel with an accent on smiling. Don’t think that doesn’t matter in this grindfest."
Adding to that, this year Kuchar has been hot at the biggest tournaments. He finished T5 at the WGC Match Play, T8 at the WGC Cadillac and T3 at The Masters.
A steady, accurate and solid putter like Kuchar, with the way he is playing in the big tournaments this year has to be considered a definite threat to win the U.S. Open.
From Damon Hack at SportsIllustrated.com:
"[Phil] Mickelson already has a locker at the World Golf Hall of Fame, but a U.S. Open title would elevate him to a higher level. Five major championships would tie him with his boyhood hero, Seve Ballesteros, among others. That’s golfing immortality."
Mickelson always finds a way to be relevant at the major tournaments.
And he's had plenty of chances to win the U.S. Open, finishing second a record five times in 21 tries. You can add finishing T4 twice and two additional Top 10s.
He will be paired with Tiger Woods and Bubba Watson for the first two rounds. Last time he was in a group with Woods he outscored him by 11 shots in the final round to win the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am in February.
If he repeats that performance to start his first two rounds, he could be well on his way to his fifth major.
From Steve Elling at CBSSports.com:
"From tee to green, there’s probably not a player better-suited to the narrow confines of Olympic Club. The question for Westy, still seeking that elusive first major, is whether he can hole enough knee-knockers for par from 5-10 feet. Westwood finished T7 at Olympic in 1998."
The world's No. 3 might be the best player ever not to win a major with 39 wins worldwide, two of them this year.
He is carrying a truck load of confidence—and a new set of clubs in his bag—after winning the Nordea Masters title in Sweden this past weekend.
Lee Westwood has held the tournament lead in many majors in the past before surrendering it during later rounds.
He's had four Top 10 U.S. Open finishes in 12 appearances, including a tie for third last year at Congressional Country Club.
He definitely has the talent and the game to get himself in position to win, he now has to be able to close the deal and get that first major.
From Neil Squires at Express.co.uk:
"If ever there was a place for stability this dramatically crumpled piece of San Francisco real estate is it and no one in this week’s US Open field can card a lower score on golf’s Richter Scale at present than Luke Donald."
In the past two years he has reworked his game and become the most consistent player and the world's No. 1 player.
Last year, he became the first man to officially top the money lists in Europe and the United States, and this year he has won tournaments on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.
He comes from being named The Race to Dubai European Tour Golfer of the Month for May. If there is a time for him to win his first major it's this weekend at the U.S. Open.
The tricky Lake Course at Olympic Club might suit his game as he has a preference for shaping the ball from left to right.
Donald has a great chance to erase himself from the list of best players without a major win.
From John Huggan at GolfDigest.com:
"All but grown up, though still with much to learn about golf and life, a lot has changed in the 12 months since Rory McIlroy became U.S Open champion. One year on from that sensational and already iconic eight-shot victory at Congressional, the cute wee mop-topped Belfast boy is all but gone, replaced now by a fair facsimile of the mature man he will soon enough become."
Add to this that he recently admitted to the Belfast Telegraph that he has been dealing with off-course issues the past few months:
"I’m trying to find the perfect balance between golf and having a normal life. I have a lot more going on in my life than golf. Caroline and I both travel a lot and it’s important we find time to do the things we want to do."
He arrives to the tournament off what is the worst streak of his career that has seen him missed three straight cuts and in his last tournament he threw away a two-shot lead and went into the water on 18 to finish T7.
Seems like he really is working with that maturity issue on and off the field and has led to his inconsistency lately.
But he will get all this figured out sooner rather than later. A player like him cannot be down for too long and this could be the start of a new successful streak of excellent performances.
From Bob Harig at espn.go.com:
"This week marks the four-year anniversary since Tiger Woods last won a major championship, but even if he were to win the 112th U.S. Open, the winner of 14 Grand Slam events said the questions about his status in the game would persist."
He won last year at the Chevron World Challenge, but the field was limited and the course was setup for him.
He won the Arnold Palmer Invitational and the Memorial Tournament, two PGA Tour events with a full field, and strong fields at that. But those are two tournaments that he has won multiple times and courses he is comfortable at.
Woods has been a winner twice already this year, but the common saying is that until he wins another major he is not fully back.
But even if he were to win the U.S. Open this weekend, a major with a full field of all the top players in the world, the saying would be that it might not be enough until he wins a couple more.
After his off-the-field problems there will always be a field of detractors. Its like the LeBron James story, no matter how well he does from here on, it will never be good enough and the glass will always be half-full.