Tiger still the man to beat says Ernie
You would have found long odds on this statement before November last year, but for the first time in 12 years Tiger Woods is not the outright bookmakers' favourite ahead of a major.
The odds on him repeating his US Open victory of a decade ago here at Pebble Beach have lengthened as a result of the turbulent background in his private life; this year Phil Mickelson is equally fancied by the bookies to win his first title in the event.
But players remain reluctant, publicly at least, to write off the winner of 14 majors. Two-time US Open champion Ernie Els, who plays with Woods in the first two rounds, still believes the American is the man to beat.
Furthermore, as far as the South African is concerned, he remains the main man in their three-ball, which also includes the in-form Briton Lee Westwood.
"You've got to give that nod still a little bit more to Tiger," said Els. "Lee has been playing some of the best golf in the world over the last two years but you have a guy that wins 14 majors and has a win record percentage of 30-40%.
"Talent doesn't go away. Obviously Tiger has had to deal with a lot of other issues outside of golf. It's been affecting him a bit on the course but it'll just be a matter of time before he is the old Tiger again.
Woods can fall back on his previous success at Pebble Beach. Photo: Getty
"He's been working hard on his game, I know that, and he's the guy who won here the last time so he still has all the boxes ticked in his favour. He's the guy who won here by 15 shots 10 years ago and you can't take that away from him," Els added.
Westwood is brimming with confidence after his victory in Memphis at the weekend and feels he has plenty still in the tank despite the draining effects of a win completed in stifling heat.
"You can wear yourself out a bit after a win, but I'd like to think I've won enough events now that I know how to get back on the bike and back into tournament mode to focus on the job in hand which is obviously the US Open this week," Westwood said.
Crucially the Englishman has already done the Pebble Beach reconnaissance work here ahead of playing in Memphis. He even used a local caddie to acquire additional inside knowledge of the place.
Off the back of a victory, Westwood is entitled to feel full of confidence, though one wonders how his attitude might have shifted had Robert Garrigus made double bogey or better on the 72nd hole at the St Jude Classic.
Then the world number three would have suffered another frustrating near miss. Predictably Westwood insists it would have made little difference had the day belonged to the unheralded American. "I was using Memphis as a prep for this week, to be competitive and to get in there and have a chance," Westwood said.
"Obviously it was a massive boost to win the tournament and be given the chance to win it. I've given away tournaments before on the last hole and it was nice for one to fall my way for a change."
The most striking aspect of Pebble Beach for the 2010 US Open is the mowing of the fairways on holes 6, 8, 9 and 10 that take them to the cliff edge, opening up the prospect of shots being played from the beach.
Els hit one on to the sand at the 10th in practice. "I could have got down there to play it, but I'm not sure how I would have got back. Maybe I would have needed a rope or something," he smiled.
Despite winning twice this season, the South African wishes he was bringing more current form into the second major of the year and is hoping that playing with Woods and Westwood at such an iconic venue will inspire him this week.
Els is also tipping compatriot Tim Clark, the winner of last month's Players Championship, for a big week. "He knows how to play in the wind and he's one of the better drivers and iron players on Tour - and that's what you're going to have to do here this week," Els said.
Sergio Garcia's "pep talk" from European Ryder Cup captain Colin Montgomerie will have to wait. Monty, who was recently the subject of tabloid revelations about his private life, has not made his promised journey to the US Open so that he can spend more time with his family.
The Scot had made great play that he was coming out to Pebble Beach to keep tabs on prospective members of his team to face the US at Celtic Manor in October. He was planning to meet the out-of-form Garcia and hoping to inspire an upturn in the Spaniard's fortunes.
Montgomerie failed to qualify for this US Open, but faces a heavy playing schedule which includes the BMW International, French and Scottish Opens, as well as the Open Championship at St Andrews, in the coming weeks.
Padraig Harrington has shelved plans to put on his own event as a links tune-up the week before the Open. In recent years he has played the Irish PGA at the European Club in Wicklow to gain competitive golf in a seaside environment, but that event has been moved to September.
Last month the Irishman was mulling over staging his own tournament but this idea has not come to fruition. Instead he plans to use the JP McManus charity pro-am at Adare Manor on 5 and 6 July to provide the element of competition in his build up to the Open.
Harrington will then travel early to St Andrews and play the weekend before Open week to acclimatise to links golf.
So as the big guns seach for form and fine tune their preparation, who do you fancy to come out on top come the end of Sunday?