Every June the U.S. Open conjures images of guys like Kevin Costner's character in "Tin Cup." Guys who have Woody's Smokehouse as a sponsor, or in Mill Creek Golf Director Dennis Miller's case, Handel's Ice Cream.
Just about anyone can attempt to qualify, but the reward is perhaps the most daunting task in golf - a USGA setup course.
Traditionally because the U.S. Open is played on such insanely difficult tracks, luck plays the biggest factor in determining a winner. Yes, skill obviously helps a great deal, but usually a lot of the Sunday leaderboard is made up of guys who were blessed with fortunate lies, good bounces, and having just about everything go their way.
Predicting the U.S. Open is about as useless as a landscaper doing a physics equation to help mow the lawn. And if that metaphor sounds predictably ridiculous, it's because the only thing predictable about the U.S Open is how ridiculously hard it is.
The U.S. Open is at Olympic Club in San Francisco this year, where the fairways are fast as greens and the greens are faster than glass and harder than concrete. Even if you're a pro at the top of your game, every little bounce in every little nook and cranny of Olympic is going to have an effect on your final score.
Tiger Woods is coming off a win in Dublin at the Memorial. He's the betting favorite because when he's winning, one of the only certainties in golf is he'll at least be in contention.
Other guys like Rory McIlroy, Lee Westood, Bubba Watson, Phil Mickelson and Luke Donald, are all big names with big aspirations and expectations but I'd take a bet at least two of those five won't even be around for the weekend.
Not because they aren't good, or even because they aren't playing well, but because at the U.S. Open, bad to worse is expected - worse to over is the norm.
Which leads me to my predictions. These are no more scientific than picking lottery numbers, so don't hold your breath. The closest thing I've come to an accurate prediction in a U.S. Open was Rocco Mediate, and he was one of my wild-cards, then I took him again in the playoff. He didn't qualify this year or I'd pick him again.
1. Tiger Woods - When Tiger won at Bay Hill earlier this year, he looked good doing it, but he didn't look as comfortable winning there as he did in Dublin. It looks like he's finally trusting his swing, and he's such a grinder in majors it's pretty rare he lets one get away from him. I think this week he gets No. 15 and finally shuts up a lot of his doubters.
2. Jason Dufner - Dufner didn't just arrive on the PGA Tour this season, he demolished the entrance. He won twice in three weeks (his off week he was getting married), and nearly won a third time. If he is anything as close to mentally strong at Olympic as he is with his swing right now, he'll make some noise.
3. Lee Westwood - He's too good to not win a major eventually? Isn't he? Westwood is coming of a European Tour win last week. While the odds are against him of winning back-to-back events, if anyone is poised to break the major drought, it's Westwood. It doesn't matter the course, or the style of play. He'll figure it out.
4. Sergio Garcia - Sure, Sergio loses his cool a lot and plays himself out of events. But he's another guy who despite his own doubts about winning the big ones, is too talented for it not to eventually happen. Garcia has been close in majors plenty of times before. You'll know pretty quickly Thursday whether or not he's in the right head and playing space to contend.
5. Tim Clark - Nothing against Tim Clark, but he's boring. Which is exactly why I picked him. He's never won a major and he's only won once. But plenty of guys no one picks are going to be in the hunt down the stretch. Clark has a habit of coming strong out of the gate but fading towards the finish. Maybe this time around he'll get it done.
The Wild Cards
1. Davis Love III - The U.S. Ryder Cup captain needs to make a statement to his team at some point this season.
2. Matt Kuchar - As boring as Tim Clark but more talented.
3. Justin Rose - Ditto.
4. David Toms - It doesn't take Goliath to win a U.S. Open, it takes a bunch of pars.
5. Spencer Levin - If he can stay out of his own head, his golf could propel him to victory.
Thoughts? Predictions? Respond to this column online by posting a comment or e-mail B.J. Lisko at firstname.lastname@example.org