Unpredictable Olympic set to test the best
Predicting major winners has become a very unpredictable business.
Throw in a course known as the "graveyard of legends" and the identity of the 112th US Open champion becomes as foggy as a San Francisco summer's day.
The Olympic Club, just south of the Golden Gate Bridge, hosts the year's second major with the potential for a 15th different winner in the last 15 of golf's big four tournaments, stretching back to Padraig Harrington's Open and US PGA double in 2008.
You have to go back to Lee Janzen's US Open triumph at, appropriately, Olympic Club in 1998 to find a similar streak without a repeat winner, a run that started with Nick Price's US PGA win in 1994.
Another run waiting to be halted in "San Fran" this week, is that of eight successive majors with first-time winners, beginning with Graeme McDowell's US Open victory down the Californian coast at Pebble Beach in 2010. Plus, six of the last seven US Opens have been won by players clinching their first - and, for five of them, only - major title.
The Olympic Club's reputation for throwing up funky winners further clouds the issue.
Unheralded Jack Fleck beat the great Ben Hogan in an 18-hole play-off in 1955; Arnold Palmer lost a seven-shot lead with nine holes to go as Billy Casper won in 1966; Scott Simpson pipped Tom Watson by a shot in 1987; and Payne Stewart squandered a four-stroke third-round lead to let in Janzen in 1998.
"In some ways you think, geez, you remember more about who didn't win - what great legend didn't win an Open here - versus who did win," said Mike Davis, executive director of US Open organisers the United States Golf Association (USGA). "There is something magical about it."
Olympic's roll of honour might be against them but the game's big names have their own motivation this week.
Tiger Woods is back in form and striving to get his scoreboard ticking again, four years after his last major title - the 2008 US Open at Torrey Pines.
Phil Mickelson continues to chase a first US Open victory after five runner-up spots. England - with Luke Donald and Lee Westwood ranked first and third in the world - is still without a major champion since 1996 and a US Open winner since 1970.
Then there's Rory McIlroy, bidding to become the first back-to-back winner since Curtis Strange in 1988 and 1989. Not only that, of course, he would become the third Northern Irish US Open champion in a row and take NI's tally to four majors in two years.
US Opens are noted for the difficulty of courses, traditionally featuring tight fairways, thick rough and fast greens. The USGA is also renowned for the difficulty of its set-ups, with courses often bordering on unplayable - which is either unfair or a great test of golf, depending on your point of view.
McIlroy's record-breaking 16-under total of 268 to win at Congressional last year, breaking Woods's previous finishing mark by four shots, was blamed on a rain-softened course in Maryland.
"Do we shoot for even par to win? No," said Davis. "But at the US Open, par should be a good score. We genuinely want the US Open to be the toughest test of the year.
"It didn't happen last year. I would say most of that was caused by Mother Nature."
The Olympic Club's Lake Course will play firm and fast this week, with little sign of rain. The hilly, heavily tree-lined venue, with small greens and tricky, reverse-camber fairways will also be exposed to Pacific winds and threatened by the city's famous fog.
According to Davis, the cold, moist air at sea level means it will play longer than the modest 7,170 yards (par 70) the scorecard suggests. And that's not taking into account the 520-yard par-four first and the longest par five in major history, the 670-yard 16th.
Not that it should be a factor, but the course is also right on top of the San Andreas fault, which might be handy for putts hanging over the lip.
"I am convinced that this will be the hardest start in a US Open," added Davis. "The first six holes are going to just be brutal. I would contend if you play the first six holes two over, I don't think you're giving up anything to the field."
McIlroy says attack is the best form of defence and hopes the birdies outnumber the bogeys. Masters champion Bubba Watson reckons there is an 80 lurking for him. Donald is relishing the need for a predominant left-to-right fade for a right-hander.
Woods, who played Olympic plenty of times while at college at nearby Stanford, is well aware of the challenge ahead.
"You have to curve it more off the tees here than any other golf course that we play," said the three-time US Open champion.
"You've got right-to-left slopes of fairways and greens, and you have to cut it, so you're going against the grain.
"We have to hit the ball high. We have to hit the ball low. Our short game's got to be dialled in.
"But I've always preferred it to be more difficult, there's no doubt. And I've always preferred it to be fast."
The graveyard of legends is about to come alive. But then again, even that is not guaranteed at Olympic.