Prowling Tiger, hidden danger: To many the US Open is Woods' to lose...

.... but this is the Olympic Club where history shows there is no such thing as a certainty

This US Open is Tiger Woods' to lose. This is the message the American broadcast community is relentlessly pounding out at Olympic Club. There is nothing like Tiger-fever to boost viewing figures and suck punters through the door. It is working. The sold-out signs are up in San Francisco.

The call is delivered with the absolute certainty of the zealot. You can see the appeal; golfing superstar, global icon, once thought lost to the game, emerges from the post-scandal wasteland to reassert his supremacy. The mythical pursuit of 18 major championships, the number acquired by the great Jack Nicklaus, is back on, and powered not least by the statistical symmetry offered by the numbers 14 and 15.

Fourteen majors have passed since Woods claimed his 14th at Torrey Pines four years ago. Each one has been won by a different golfer. That chip a fortnight ago in the final round at the Memorial Championship and the red-shirted uppercuts that followed have convinced believers that the 112th US Open, returning to San Francisco after a 14-year absence, is about Woods re-establishing golfing hegemony. The 15th different winner in this present sequence will be Woods, claiming his 15th major 15 tournaments after his last.

The idea certainly appeals to the man himself. He saw in his win at Memorial, the 73rd PGA Tour success, a reprise of old certainties, one that could not have been otherwise given the command he had of the tools in his bag. "I went into Augusta [following victory at Bay Hill] and did not feel comfortable hitting the ball up. And I got back into a lot of my old patterns. That's what made playing Muirfield so nice. I had those shots and I was doing it the correct way. And I had compression, hitting the ball high and hitting it long. That was fun," Woods said.

The problem with any numbers game is the potential of the random variable to deliver the unintended consequence, which on this course can happen at almost every turn. Only four players have returned under-par scores in the four US Open championships held at Olympic. And in each of those tournaments the would-be winner has fallen at the death.

History is telling us that hubris has no place at America's oldest athletic club. Arnold Palmer led by seven with nine to play in 1966 yet frittered the advantage to gift victory to Billy Casper. Eleven years earlier Ben Hogan saw Jack Fleck, of whom the great man had never heard, claim two birdies in the final four holes to force a play-off and take the crown.

Tom Watson in 1987 and Payne Stewart in 1998 were victims of similarly improbable storylines, proving that the one constant at this course is caprice. Lee Westwood reckons he has never encountered a place with such goofy characteristics. Never mind the endless, tree-lined dog-legs, narrow, cambered fairways, mad elevations, small, undulating greens and the longest hole in championship golf, all 670 yards of the par-5 16th, there is mystery with which to contend, too.

Lee Janzen fell six shots behind Stewart after bogeys at two of the opening three holes in 1998. He was on his way back to the tee at the 5th and, in all likelihood, out of the tournament when his ball, declared lost, fell from a tree. He advanced up the fairway, chipped in for par and went on to deny the people's champion. The point here is not to rubbish the idea of Woods winning, only to ridicule the notion of certainty.

The winner will doubtless conform to the US Open clichs that demand the champion displays precision hitting, masterful course management and a laser touch around the greens. The usual candidates present themselves. Come on down Luke Donald. The world no.1 does not possess a distinguished record in this event, yet accepts the logic that links his game with success here.

"I've really progressed in terms of getting my ball striking back to a more consistent level," he said. "You just have to keep it in play, hit a lot of greens, and obviously when you're out of position, miss it to the wrong spots and be smart about your game. I feel like I am good at plodding my way around a golf course. And I suppose at a US Open you have to plod away even more than probably the other majors."

Westwood is routinely included among the favourites at all the major events. His critics point to frailty with the putter, yet he arrived in San Francisco after a 40th tournament victory, claimed by a winning margin of five shots. "Everybody has their strengths and weaknesses," he said. "The putting issue gets on my nerves a bit but I can't be doing much wrong shooting 19 under at a tough course in Sweden. I putted well there, my game's in decent shape, so we will see. I can only come into tournaments and play as well as possible. After that, it's out of my hands."

If the numbers stack up well for Woods here, at least in the eyes of the mystics, they do not offer much comfort to Rory McIlroy. Only two golfers have ever retained the US Open, and none in their 20s has finished in the top two in the four tournaments held at the Olympic Club. Despite a return to the front page of the leaderboard in Memphis last week there is still a sense that McIlroy is battling the inevitable doubts borne of three successive missed cuts.

As his unveiling before a packed baseball house on Tuesday night as a celebrity pitcher at the San Francisco Giants showed, McIlroy retains a powerful hold on the American imagination. He is the first pin-up of golf after Tiger Woods and brings a lot of game to this course. A win for either would fill another compelling chapter in the history of this tournament. But this is a course that gives the outsider a chance. Prepare to be surprised.

Ones to watch

Phil Mickelson

A god on the West Coast. A total of 18 of his 40 career victories have come on this seaboard. Five times a runner-up at this event, there would be no more popular winner. And as they say in these parts, he likes his chances.

Jason Duffner

After 10 years on tour without a win Jason Duffner can hardly miss. In his past four outings he has two victories and a runner-up spot. Has yet to break the top-30 in five US Open starts. Who cares? Went close at last year's US PGA. Could get home here.

Andy Zhang

All eyes are on Andy Zhang, the 14-year-old man-boy from Beijing. Four years at the David Leadbetter academy have given him a Florida twang and an impressive grasp of the golfing lexicon. He can't win it, can he? Tissues at the ready.

Selected tee-off times (US unless stated; all times BST)

Starting at first hole:

9.29pm L Westwood (Eng), L Donald (Eng), R McIlroy (NIrl)

9.40pm S Garcia (Sp), G McDowell (NIrl), J Furyk

Starting at ninth hole:

3.33pm T Woods, B Watson, P Mickelson

4.17pm R Karlsson (Swe), R Rock (Eng), B Estes

9.25pm M Kaymer (Ger), J Rose (Eng), H Mahan

9.36pm I Poulter (Eng), M Kuchar, S Stricker

9.58pm D Johnson, R Ishikawa (Japan), R Fowler

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice finalists Mark Wright and Bianca Miller
tvBut who should win The Apprentice?
News
The monkey made several attempts to revive his friend before he regained consciousness
video
Extras
indybest
News
Elton John and David Furnish will marry on 21 December 2014
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
Sport
Brendan Rodgers looks on from the touchline
SPORT
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick