Success in any U.S. Open requires a tremendous amount of patience.
The fairways are narrow. The rough is absurdly high. And the distance? In the case of the Blue Course at Congressional Country Club, the sight of this year's 111th U.S. Open, it's the second longest track in the history of the tournament.
Savvy veterans know what they're getting themselves into. That's why they dominate my selections for the top 10 favorites this week.
Did you know Hunter Mahan once shot an incredible round of 62 on the Blue Course at Congressional?
It was good for a tie of the tournament course record at the 2009 AT&T National.
But that was a friendlier, more docile version of Congressional. It's quite safe to say Mahan won't be putting up a number like that this week.
His 2011 success so far, however, seems to form a blueprint for a strong week ahead.
Mahan hits a good amount of fairways (65 percent) and a lot of greens (71 percent). And he's first on the PGA Tour in birdie average and par breakers.
How that translates into success with major championship pressure piled on top remains to be seen.
It would seem pretty obvious that a player who hits the ball an average of 311 yards off the tee will have somewhat of an advantage at colossally long Congressional.
But Bubba Watson will have to keep the ball out of trouble, including the disruptive rough, if he's going to give himself a chance to place his approach shots where they need to be.
Watson is first on the PGA Tour in greens in regulation percentage, so he could make a run at this championship if he finds fairways and avoids any big numbers.
Single digits jump out at me when I look at Nick Watney's 2011 PGA Tour season thus far.
He's fourth in scoring average and fourth among the money leaders. And he's sixth in all-around ranking and FedExCup regular season points.
Throw seven top-10 finishes into that mix and you have the makings of what has been a really good year for Watney.
But good could've been great.
What I don't like is Watney's inability to put four rounds together. Granted, he did win the WGC Cadillac Championship, but when you consider how well he's been playing, it's a wonder he hasn't won more.
What's not to like about Matt Kuchar's game heading into this week's U.S. Open?
Not only has he made the cut in every PGA Tour event he entered so far this year, but he has eight top-10 finishes to show for his efforts.
Kuchar also has momentum on his side with a second place finish at The Memorial Tournament a couple weeks ago.
Fairway. Green. Repeat. I can see Matt Kuchar following this formula quite nicely.
Ernie Els knows the U.S. Open. He won two of them.
He also knows Congressional. Els won the Open on this golf course—albeit a shorter version—back in 1997.
I'm guessing the wily vet will find a way to get himself into contention again and make this tournament a memorable one.
Outside of a strong greens in regulation percentage, Els isn't doing anything particularly well statistically heading into this year's Open Championship. He'll need to hit a lot of GIR, and in the right places, if he's going to make magic happen again.
Wouldn't it be great to see 40-somethings Phil Mickelson and "The Big Easy" battling it out on Sunday?
K.J. Choi enters the U.S. Open as one of the hottest players in the field.
Coming off an impressive playoff victory at the Players Championship a few weeks ago, Choi also has five top-10s this year and he's second on the PGA Tour money list. Add to that his success at Congressional (he won the AT&T National here four years ago), and you have all the makings of a U.S. Open favorite.
Choi is 111th in driving distance, so he won't impress with lengthy tee shots. But he does have the mental makeup to survive the test that is the 111th U.S. Open.
I wouldn't say Luke Donald's game is perfectly suited for Congressional.
He's not a long-hitter. In fact, he's 148th in driving distance on the PGA Tour.
That doesn't seem to bode well for the obscene distances he'll face on Congressional's Blue Course this week.
But his game might be perfectly suited for the U.S. Open.
In a tournament where patience, avoiding mistakes and having the ability to weather any storm are typically desirable qualities to possess, Donald will be the poster child for success.
Plus, he enters this week with 10 straight top-10 finishes to his credit.
How could anyone bet against Donald this week? He's the No. 1 player in the world, and he'll have a game plan for finding his way around.
As the No. 2 player in the world, Lee Westwood has all the tools to make a U.S. Open run this week.
Even including a playoff loss to world No. 1 Luke Donald at the BMW PGA Championship a few weeks ago, it's been a great year for Westwood with wins on the Asian Tour's Indonesian Masters in April and the Ballantine's Championship a week later.
He's currently third in scoring average on the PGA Tour and he has the patience and discipline to withstand the abuse a U.S. Open course can dish out.
Steve Stricker is a model of consistency. And that trait will serve him well as he prepares to do battle against Congressional this week.
Stricker's boasting a lot of top-10 stats on the PGA Tour these days—scoring average, birdie average, all-around ranking and strokes gained putting. Plus he has eight top-25 finishes in 10 starts, including a win at The Memorial Tournament a couple weeks ago.
Stricker is a player you can count on to keep his cool and stay true to his game under any conditions or circumstances. That's a recipe for success at the U.S. Open.
Phil Mickelson's U.S. Open history is legendary. Of course, it's not the type of legend he really wants to talk about.
Mickelson finished second a record five times. And he has nine top-10 finishes.
If he can overcome the demons of his past in this golf tournament and avoid a late collapse, he'll walk away with his first U.S. Open championship.