(Reuters) - Dustin Johnson is a lukewarm favourite for this week’s U.S. Open, but parity in the post Tiger Woods era and a new venue only add to the uncertainty over who will lift the trophy next Sunday.
While now world number one Johnson won in 2016 and then world number one Jordan Spieth triumphed in 2015, it would hardly surprise if this year threw up a more unlikely champion at Erin Hills in Wisconsin.
Making a prediction even more fraught with danger is that most of the favourites have at least a question mark hovering over them, while other players have claimed most of the recent victories on the PGA Tour.
Consider that American Johnson, who missed the U.S. Masters after hurting his back on tournament eve, failed to make the halfway at the Memorial tournament last week.
Or that world number two Rory McIlroy has not played in nearly a month, since reporting back problems at the Players Championship.
And the next two players in the rankings, Australian Jason Day and Japanese Hideki Matsuyama, have been quiet of late, which taken in combination is just about enough to make a professional gambler decide to throw a dart at the entry list to find a prospective winner.
Erin Hills, at 7,800 yards and with four par-fives, is likely to favour power hitters, but that hardly narrows the list of prospective winners in the year's second major championship.
And while good putting never goes astray, look for a great ball-striker to emerge on top.
U.S. Masters champion Sergio Garcia could be tough to beat, while Spieth seems to be back in form after missing the cut at the Players Championship.
Masters runner-up Justin Rose drives the ball just about as well as anyone, as does Australian Adam Scott, while South Africans Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen are always a threat.
The American threat, if not led by Johnson or Spieth, could emerge from the likes of Rickie Fowler or Kevin Kisner, while Garcia’s Spanish compatriot Jon Rahm has all the makings of a champion.
Day said his game plan would be the same as ever at the U.S. Open -- eliminate single-hole disasters by avoiding unnecessary risks, find the fairway off the tee and stay in emotional control.
“Get your birdies when you can. Always try and stay positive, and never think you're out of it,” he said.
Those are hardly state secrets but knowing them and having the discipline to abide by them are two different things. Patience, as much as shot execution, will be key. Those who do best at managing both will at least have a chance.
Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina, editing by Gene Cherry