Prior to a U.S. Open, the discussion almost always centers around which of golf's super stars will play well enough to win golf's most coveted title.
But in this year's contest, even more than usual, the golf course could be the star attraction -- regardless of whether Phil Mickelson completes the career grand slam or if Tiger Woods improbably wins his fourth title.
Chambers Bay, located along the Puget Sound in Washington state could just as well be located on the west coast of England. The links style course redefines undulation and offers golfers a true test. A test many of the games top pros are unhappy about.
"So I think it's just that it can be a tiring week," Henrik Stenson told reporters earlier this week, "because you can hit some really nice golf shots and ends up far, far away from the hole due to the design of the green complexes. At least in my mind, it's a challenge. If you feel like you hit a good shot and you hit on a bit of a side slope and end up 50 feet away, and you feel like that should have been 15 feet away, then it's tiring and draining to just keep on fighting through that."
Stenson is still gunning for his first major title, his best finish a second at the 2013 British Open. But the reigning Masters champ, phenom Jordan Spieth (who has the second best Vegas odds at 7/1) welcomes the challenge of a ridiculous 7,585 yards.
"If you are going to talk negative about a place," he said, "you're almost throwing yourself out to begin with, because golf is a mental game."
Favored, just a little above Speith is Rory McIlroy (5/1 odds), who certainly boasts a game that could tame Chambers Bay but has also been very inconsistent this season. He's missed cuts in PGA Tour and European events but has also won twice, the Wells Fargo Championship and the WGC-Cadillac Match Play Championship.
If McIlroy resembles the same golfer who was unstoppable down the stretch last year, he could run away with things. And if Phil Mickelson can put together four solid rounds, he could add the only missing trophy from his hall of fame career.
"Recently," Mickelson, a six-time U.S. Open runner up said, "I feel like I found the direction on getting that back, getting my swing plane back, making solid contact, hitting the shots that I expect to hit. ... I feel like it's on the verge of coming around."
Among the bevy of other potential champions in men like Adam Scott, Jim Furyk, Ricky Fowler and others, Woods still has hope that he can play at a competitive level again.
"I've got three of these," Woods said with a smile when he spoke to the media this week. "I want to be out here. I want to play. I want to compete, and I want to win. And to me it's so much fun having a chance to win on the back nine on Sunday."
Woods has 35/1 odds of winning, according to MyTopSportsbooks.com.
Coverage begins on FoxSports1 at noon Thursday.
US Open first and second round tee times
10 a.m.-4 p.m. — Michael Putnam, United States; Marcus Fraser, Australia; Steve Marino, United States.
10:11 a.m.-4:11 p.m. — Garth Mulroy, South Africa; Richard Lee, United States; Lucas Bjerregaard, Denmark.
10:22 a.m.-4:22 p.m. — Jason Allred, United States; a-Kyle Jones, United States; Cody Gribble, United States.
10:33 a.m.-4:33 p.m. — Phil Mickelson, United States; Bubba Watson, United States; Angel Cabrera, Argentina.
10:44 a.m.-4:44 p.m. — Liang Wen-Chong, China; David Hearn, Canada; Hiroyuki Fujita, Japan.
10:55 a.m.-4:55 p.m. — Robert Streb, United States; a-Lee McCoy, United States; Kevin Chappell, United States.
11:06 a.m.-5:06 p.m. — George McNeill, United States; Masahiro Kawamura, Japan; Cameron Tringale, United States.
11:17 a.m.-5:17 p.m — Henrik Stenson, Sweden; Francesco Molinari, Italy; Brandt Snedeker, United States.
11:28 a.m.-5:28 p.m. — Jim Furyk, United States; Miguel Angel Jimenez, Spain; Colin Mongtomerie, Scotland.
11:39 a.m.-5:39 p.m. — Brooks Koepka, United States; Russell Henley, United States; Byeong-Hun An, South Korea.
11:50 a.m.-5:50 p.m. — Jason Dufner, United States; Marc Warren, Scotland; Matt Every, United States.
12:01 p.m.-6:01 p.m. — Brandon Hagy, United States; a-Matthew NeSmith, United States; Sebastian Cappelen, Denmark.
12:12 p.m.-6:12 p.m. — a-Nick Hardy, United States; Alex Kim, United States; Rich Berberian Jr., United States.
4 p.m.-10 a.m. — Jason Palmer, England; Roberto Castro, United States; Andres Romero, Argentina.
4:11 p.m.-10:11 a.m. — a-Denny McCarthy, United States; D.A. Points, United States, Shiv Kapur, India.
4:22 p.m.-10:22 a.m. — a-Bryson DeChambeau, United States; Blayne Barber, United States; Billy Hurley, United States;
4:33 p.m.-10:33 a.m. — Geoff Ogilvy, Australia; Ernie Els, South Africa; Retief Goosen, South Africa.
4:44 p.m.-10:44 a.m. — Bo Van Pelt, United States; Charlie Beljan, United States; Tony Finau, United States.
4:55 p.m-10:55 a.m. — Lee Janzen, United States; a-Ollie Schniederjans, United States; Darren Clarke, Northern Ireland.
5:06 p.m.-11:06 a.m. — Daniel Summerhays, United States; Thomas Aiken, South Africa; Danny Lee, New Zealand.
5:17 p.m.-11:17 a.m. — Jordan Spieth, United States; Jason Day, Australia; Justin Rose, England.
5:28 p.m.-11:28 a.m. — Tiger Woods, United States; Rickie Fowler, United States; Louis Oosthuizen, South Africa.
5:39 p.m.-11:39 a.m. — Jimmy Walker, United States; Zach Johnson, United States; Ian Poulter, England.
5:50 p.m.-11:50 a.m. — Ryan Moore, United States; Anirban Lahiri, India, Erik Compton, United States.
6:01 p.m.-12:01 p.m. — a-Jake Knapp, United States; Tyler Duncan, United States; Matt Mabrey, United States.
6:12 p.m.-12:12 p.m. — Michael Davan, United States; a-David Riley, United States; Andrew Pope, United States.
10th hole-First hole
10 a.m.-4 p.m. — Troy Kelly, United States; Seuk Hyun Baek, South Korea; Cameron Smith, Australia.
10:11 a.m.-4:11 p.m. — John Parry, England; Josh Persons, United States; a-Jack Maguire, United States.
10:22 a.m.-4:22 p.m. — Tim O'Neal, United States; Stephan Jaeger, United States; Kurt Barnes, Australia.
10:33 a.m.-4:33 p.m. — Gary Woodland, United States; Victor Dubuisson, France; John Senden, Australia.
10:44 a.m.-4:44 p.m. — Andy Sullivan, England; Morgan Hoffmann, United States; Bernd Wiesberger, Austria.
10:55 a.m.-4:55 p.m. — Marcel Siem, Germany; Alexander Levy, France; Brian Harman, United States.
11:06 a.m.-5:06 p.m. — Hideki Matsuyama, Japan; Graeme McDowell, Northern Ireland; Matt Kuchar, United States.
11:17 a.m.-5:17 p.m. — Dustin Johnson, United States; Adam Scott, Australia; Sergio Garcia, Spain.
11:28 a.m.-6:28 p.m. — Martin Kaymer, Germany; a-Gunn Yang, South Korea; Rory McIlroy, Northern Ireland.
11:39 a.m.-5:39 p.m. — Patrick Reed, United States; Chris Kirk, United States; Jamie Donaldson, Wales.
11:50 a.m.-5:50 p.m. — Webb Simpson, United States; Keegan Bradley, United States; Kevin Na, United States.
12:01 p.m.-6:01 p.m. — a-Sam Horsfield, England; Shunsuke Sonoda, Japan; Oliver Farr, Wales.
12:12 p.m.-6:10 p.m. — Kevin Lucas, United States; Pat Wilson, United States; a-Cole Hammer, United States.
4 p.m.-10 a.m. — Tom Hoge, United States; Brad Fritsch, Canada; Tjaart van der Walt, South Africa.
4:11 p.m.-10:11 a.m. — Brad Elder, United States; a-Beau Hossler, United States; Jamie Lovemark, United States.
4:22 p.m.-10:22 a.m. — Ryo Ishikawa, Japan; Luke Donald, England; J.B. Holmes, United States.
4:33 p.m.-10:33 a.m. — Lucas Glover, United States; a-Bradley Neil, Scotland; Marc Leishman, Australia.
4:44 p.m.-10:44 a.m. — Ryan Palmer, United States; Joost Luiten, The Netherlands; Danny Willett, England.
4:55 p.m.-10:55 a.m. — Kevin Kisner, United States; George Coetzee, South Africa; Alexander Noren, Sweden.
5:06 p.m.-11:06 a.m. — Brendon Todd, United States; Branden Grace, South Africa; Thongchai Jaidee, Thailand.
5:17 p.m.-11:17 a.m. — Billy Horschel, United States; Paul Casey, England; Lee Westwood, England.
5:28 p.m.-11:28 a.m. — Bill Haas, United States; Charl Schwartzel, South Africa; Hunter Mahan, United States.
5:39 p.m.-11:39 a.m. — Shane Lowry, Ireland; Ben Martin, United States; Stephen Gallacher, Scotland.
5:50 p.m.-11:50 a.m. — Charley Hoffman, United States; Camilo Villegas, Colombia; Tommy Fleetwood, England.
6:01 p.m.-12:01 p.m. — Mark Silvers, United States; a-Brian Campbell, United States; Cheng-Tsung Pan, Taiwan.
6:12 p.m.-12:12 p.m. — Jimmy Gunn, Scotland; Jared Becher, United States; Sam Saunders, United States.