COMMENTARY | Tiger Woods' victory at the Memorial adds a whole new element to the U.S. Open at the Olympic Club. But considering the inherent difficulty of our national championship, plus the venue's history of producing unlikely winners (Jack Fleck, Scott Simpson) and dramatic rallies (Billy Casper, Lee Janzen), Woods claiming his 15th victory in a major is no foregone conclusion. One remarkable shot at the Memorial notwithstanding, Tiger's short game hasn't been sharp. His consistency remains a question mark, too.
Look for these 10 players to challenge him:
Jonathan Byrd: This five-time winner on the PGA Tour is on a roll, finishing no worse than a tie for 12th in his last four starts. He ranks ninth in the scrambling statistic -- the percent of time a player misses the green in regulation but still makes par or better -- meaning his short game skill will be useful around Olympic's small, devilishly bunkered greens.
Luke Donald: The World No. 1 is due for a major, and his precision play is suited for the Open. He just won a European Tour major, the BMW PGA Championship, and has top-12s in his last three starts in the States.
Justin Rose: Like Woods, the resilient Rose is just beginning to grasp the methods of swing scientist Sean Foley. He leads the Euro Tour's Race to Dubai, was runner-up at the BMW PGA, and has five top-10s in 11 PGA Tour starts this season, including a victory at Doral's WGC event. Rose hasn't made the cut at the Open since tying for 10th in 2007, so he has a point to prove.
Phil Mickelson: Forget the "fatigue" that prompted his WD at the Memorial; Lefty always contends at majors. He's a five-time runner-up at the Open and desperately wants to win one.
Lee Westwood: Best active player never to have won a major, but he's relentless in his pursuit with eight top-5s in those events since 2008. Westwood rarely plays on the West Coast, but the Englishman should be at home in clammy Frisco.
Francesco Molinari: At 29, this terrific ball striker from Italy is just coming into his own. He finished 19th at the Masters, won in Spain last month, and is 10th in the Euro Tour's Race to Dubai.
Charlie Wi: Sooner or later, a Korean-born player will win the Open. Why not Wi? You've got to like guys who make it through the qualifying process, and Wi won the talent-laden Open Sectional at Scioto with rounds of 65-67. He played college golf at Cal, so he's familiar with Olympic. Wi is a nine-time winner in Asia, five-time runner-up on the PGA Tour, and had a near-miss at Pebble Beach this year.
Michael Thompson: This Eagle Scout was runner-up to Colt Knost in the 2007 U.S. Amateur at Olympic. In a reversal of fortune, Knost failed to qualify for the Open, while Thompson grabbed the second spot at the Rockville, Md., Sectional. Thompson is a lights-out putter. He ranks fifth on Tour in total putting, sixth in strokes gained putting, and third in average distance putts made.
Bob Estes: Looking for a long shot? Here he is. At 46, the quirky Estes won the Sectional Qualifier in Houston by two shots. He's been a fixture on Tour since 1989, winning four times, but despite being a fitness freak he was slow to recover from a 2010 wrist injury and had to survive Q-School last fall. His best starts this season have been a tie for 4th at the Texas Open and joint 15th at The Players. Scott Simpson, anyone?
Dave Seanor has attended more than 50 major championships, including 14 U.S. Opens.
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