1 The favorite » After winning in spectacular fashion earlier this month at the Memorial, Tiger Woods enters on a high, seeking to break his four-year majorless drought, the longest of his career. Since capturing the 2008 Open at Torrey Pines, Woods has entered majors coming off PGA Tour victories six times. But carrying success over has been elusive. Woods, 36, believes this time could be different as his swing -- nearly two years in the making under Sean Foley -- is under control. Woods ranks first on the tour in total driving and third in scoring (69.4 strokes per round). Ladbrokes lists Woods as the favorite at 8-1.
2 The course » Olympic Club bears little resemblance to the course that hosted the 1998 Open. More than 600 trees are gone, providing more light and air to the narrow fairways, which run up, down and across the San Andreas Fault and often slope opposite from the direction they turn. On the reshaped greens, truer bentgrass has replaced slick Poa annua. Olympic has been stretched from 6,797 yards to 7,170 and includes the 670-yard 16th hole, the longest in Open history. But length will not be the primary concern. With hard, fast conditions, the premium will be on accuracy and staying out of the typically thick Open rough.
3 The majorless Brits » Since the fall of Tiger Woods in 2010, Brits Luke Donald and Lee Westwood have spent considerable time in the top spot in the world rankings despite never winning a major. Both enter in fine form after European Tour victories within the last three weeks but remain haunted by their lack of success in the big events. The top-ranked Donald, 34, has struggled off the tee in going 0-for-35 in majors, while the third-ranked Westwood, 39, has been a study in frustration on the greens, finishing second or third in six of his last 10 majors on his way to an 0-for-56 mark. Can either overcome his fatal flaw at Olympic?
4 The qualifiers » Because of its inclusive entry process, the Open always breeds interesting long-shot stories. This year is no exception as Oregon golf coach Casey Martin, who successfully sued the PGA Tour in 2001 for the right to use a golf cart because of a rare circulatory disorder, qualified at age 40 and will ride the hills of Olympic. Champions Tour journeyman Michael Allen, 53, a member of Olympic for 39 years, is the oldest player in the field. At the other end of the spectrum is Andy Zhang, 14, the youngest player in Open history, who got into the field as an alternate when Paul Casey pulled out.
At 7,568 yards, Congressional was the second-longest course in the U.S. Open history, but 22-year-old Rory McIlroy tamed it with booming drives and towering approaches, winning by eight strokes. His scores of 16-under par and 268 were the lowest in tournament history by four shots each. McIlroy became the second straight player from Northern Ireland to win the Open following Graeme McDowell's 2010 triumph at Pebble Beach.
Fit for the trophy
Which players, in the prime of their careers, have the stuff to win their first major? There are plenty of worthy contenders as eight of the top 11 in the world rankings have never won one. No. 8 Hunter Mahan and No. 9 Jason Dufner have two PGA wins each this year. No. 6 Matt Kuchar and No. 7 Justin Rose are ready. So is No. 10 Dustin Johnson, the winner last week at the St. Jude Classic. At age 45, is time running out for No. 11 Steve Stricker, who has the skill set to win an Open?
Under the radar
With tight, sloped fairways and small, fast greens, Olympic will favor players who putt well and drive it straight. Those who fit the criteria include Mark Wilson, Bo Van Pelt, Kevin Na, Ben Crane, David Mathis, Zach Johnson and John Senden, as well as former Open champions Graeme McDowell, Geoff Ogilvy and Jim Furyk. Don't count out Colt Knost or Michael Thompson, who went 1-2 at the 2007 U.S. Amateur at Olympic.
By the numbers
4 U.S. Open titles for Jack Nicklaus, Ben Hogan, Bobby Jones and Willie Anderson, a record Tiger Woods can match this year.
5 Runner-up finishes at the U.S. Open for Phil Mickelson (1999, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2009), the most ever. Jack Nicklaus was runner-up seven times at the British Open.
44 Consecutive U.S. Open starts by Jack Nicklaus, the most ever. The longest current streak (20) is owned by two-time winner Ernie Els, 42.
9,005 Players who entered this year's U.S. Open, all with a handicap index of 1.4 or better.