With Jack Fleck, Billy Casper and Scott Simpson the previous winners at Olympic, predicting a winner here is clearly as inexact a science as weather or earthquake forecasting, even before considering a field that is as wide open as the fairways are narrow.
So far this week there have been a couple of minor tremors. One last Sunday reached 4.0 on the Richter Scale. "It is a lot better to have a series of small tremors like these," cartographic technician Tamara Wilson said. "They help relieve the pressure on the big faults and lessen the chances of a major quake."
Much the same could be said about Colin Montgomerie and the Scot is determined to arrive on the first tee today in as relaxed a frame of mind as possible. With two seconds and a third in the last six years, Montgomerie has been agonisingly close to following Tony Jacklin in 1970 as a British winner of the US Open. Last year Monty won the European Grand Prix the week before going to Congressional, where he opened with a brilliant 65. But the following day he slumped to a 76, after which he never quite caught Ernie Els.
This time the preparation has been different. Montgomerie flew out to San Diego last week for a few days' practice and is fully acclimatised to the eight-hour time difference. Much of his confidence is built on the fact that he hits his three-wood both long and straight.
While it is no surprise that Tiger Woods will be surrendering his driver for a two-iron to negotiate the tree-lined doglegs, it is a blow for Monty that he will not have his favourite club in his hands as often as he would like. "I have an advantage when you need length and accuracy, as at Congressional," he said. "Here, you just need accuracy."
Olympic measures just 6,797 yards, but it plays longer than on paper, as three of the par-threes are short by modern standards and the par-four seventh stretches to just 288 yards, but requires pin-point precision. "Potential disaster awaits on every hole," Monty said.
Watson, who says he has never seen thicker rough and that if the wind blows the winning score could be over par, tipped left-to-right hitters to do well. "I wish I still faded the ball," Montgomerie sighed. "But it's nice to hear a player of that status think I am among the favourites."
With shot-making perhaps the requirement this week, as old-fashioned a concept as that might be in the days of the power game, Justin Leonard, himself a throwback to more chivalrous days, is attracting attention. Just 26 on Monday, Leonard has outstanding pedigree as a winner of the Open last July and of the US Players' Championship in March.
David Duval, with five victories since October, comes into the same category as does Jose Maria Olazabal. If the Spaniard really has solved his driving problems, as he suggested at Westchester last week, an addition to his 1994 Masters win cannot be far away. Lee Westwood must also come into consideration, with the proviso that he has not yet contended for a major before. He is, though, a quick learner.
Doubts remain, however, about the top two players on the world rankings. Els, whose back spasms could not have hit at a worse time, is tentatively easing himself back into action, but admitted: "Maybe I should just slow down a bit for a couple of weeks. There will be more US Opens and British Opens."
His only saving grace is that there is less need to unfurl his driver at full power. "You just can't rip a driver down every fairway. You have to be patient. You are playing boring golf again, trying to hit fairways and greens and make pars," he said.
If that is good for the defending champion it is not a style of golf with which Woods is familiar. None of his professional victories have come on tight golf courses. "I am only 22," he said. "I have a lot of time to play in this tournament. As time goes on I'm going to improve and really learn how to play US Open courses. You have to have a different mindset from normal tournaments."
If Mark O'Meara, the Masters champion, arrived here as Woods did last year - as the only man capable of the Grand Slam - Woods has his own double in mind. Sunday is Father's Day and Woods has already won this year on Mothering Sunday. "It would be pretty cool," he said. "I'm 50 per cent there."Reuse content