The 2012 U.S. Open features a picturesque golf course and an unpredictable field of contenders. The 112th edition of the historic golf tournament returns to The Olympic Club in San Francisco on June 14-17.
As the tournament approaches, here are the top 10 things you need to know about this year's U.S. Open:
Popular Location: This is the fifth time that the U.S. Open will be played on the Lake Course at The Olympic Club. The site first held the tournament in 1955 and most recently hosted in 1998. The club will move into a tie with Pebble Beach as the most frequent California host of the U.S. Open.
Historic Venue: The Olympic Club stakes a claim of being the oldest athletic club in America. It was founded in 1860, and early members included Mark Twain, William Randolph Hearst and Leland Stanford. The club sent 22 athletes to the 1924 Olympics in Paris, the same year that the Lake Course was originally constructed.
Scenic Setting: The club is nestled between the Pacific Ocean and Lake Merced, just south of downtown San Francisco. The Lake Course offers an attractive, tree-lined setting with plenty of scenic views of the water and the city.
Difficult Course: The Lake Course has may be picturesque, but it promises to provide a stiff challenge to the golfers. The fairways are narrow and sloping, and the greens are well-protected and fast.
Eying the Water: It may be named the "Lake Course," but water won't be a challenge at The Olympic Club. There will be plenty of nice views of the lake and the ocean, but they don't come into play, and there's not a single water hazard on the course.
Surprising Weather: If you're expecting a hot, sunny and sweltering U.S. Open in mid-June, don't count on it. San Francisco is famous for its cool summers, and don't be surprised to see rain, wind, fog and mild temperatures. But then again, given the region's abundance of micro-climates and unpredictable weather, don't count on anything.
Defending Champ: Last year's U.S. Open champion was Rory McIlroy, the charismatic young star from Northern Ireland. As a 22-year-old, McIlroy dominated at Congressional Country Club in Maryland and finished at an eye-popping 16-under. That finish was four strokes better than the previous tournament record of 12-under set by Tiger Woods in 2000.
Tough to Repeat: Don't count on McIlroy taking home the trophy again in 2012 -- it's been 23 years since a U.S. Open champion repeated and it's been extraordinarily rare in the tournament's history. Curtis Strange won in 1988 and 1989, and before that you have to go back to Ben Hogan in 1950-51.
Tracking Tiger: If a resurgent Tiger Woods can win this year, it would be a record-tying fourth U.S. Open victory, having won in 2000, 2002 and 2008. Only four other golfers have won four U.S. Opens, a group most recently joined by Jack Nicklaus.
Watching Lefty: Phil Mickelson has never taken home the U.S. Open trophy -- famously finishing in second place five times -- and the California native appears to be focused on ending the drought. Mickelson took the unusual step of withdrawing after an awful first round at the Memorial Tournament on May 31, citing the need to prepare for the U.S. Open.
KW Rosenfeld is a freelance writer and has been following golf since working on a golf course grounds crew as a teenager more than 25 years ago.