Let’s start with the bankers, the can’t-miss, cast-iron certainties as we stand on the cusp of the 2014 US Open, the second major championship of the golfing year and traditionally the most attritional.
Certainty number one is that tournament venue. Pinehurst’s famed No2 course, will shock those who have come to look upon the US Open as a last-man standing kind of golf tournament played on fairways as wide as Kate Upton’s waist and through rough as thick and juicy as David Hasselhoff’s wig.
Former Masters winner Ben Crenshaw and his design partner Bill Coore have renovated the course, bringing it near in design and spirit to the way Donald Ross wanted it to be when he laid it out in the 1930s.
It’s visually stunning. A baked-out, inland version of an Scottish links, with fiendish bunkers, very little rough and small, upturned greens straight from life and works of the Marquis de Sade.
No2 in this reincarnation calls for a golfer with the brawn of Chris Weidman and the brain of Stephen Hawking. He will need to hit it miles. He will need imagination and skill in unlimited supply.
In a field of 156, these stipulations reduce the pool of potential winners to a round dozen, maybe less.
Or at least they would if the forecast for the coming week around Pinehurst did not call for rain. Not just any rain, either. Biblical rain.
Weathermen have been known to be wrong, and so have self-styled golfing “experts”. But if the rain comes, then it will soften the course and wash away some of edge enjoyed by the most creative, the likes of Bubba Watson (18/1) and Phil Mickelson (16/1).
Which brings us to the week’s other great certainty. The run-up to this year’s event – where Paddy Power is paying 6 places – will be dominated by Mickelson.
Lefty has finished second in his national open six times over the years – with the most dramatic ‘defeat’ coming at Pinehurst in 1999 when the now departed Payne Stewart holed an 18-footer on the last hole to beat him by a shot.
What poetic justice it would be if he were to finally fulfill his quest for a career grand slam this week on the same course. That at least is what the blanket coverage in the good ol’ U S of A would have us believe.
Poetry is fine, but what about the form book prose?
In Mickelson’s case, it makes for deeply uncomfortable reading, with the 44-year-old failing to find a place in the top 10 in his last 17 tournaments. He finish tied for 11th in Memphis at the weekend – his best effort for a while.
Or was it?
My iron play was poor and my putting was pathetic. I’ll need to make some changes was his brutal self-assessment.
The eve of the US Open is perhaps not the time for making changes. Although given his history at Pinehurst, it is hard to believe Mickelson won’t be able to rouse himself to make at least some kind of challenge, albeit one that might come up short in the end.
So if the media’s sentimental favourite doesn’t win, who will?
If the predicted rain comes then the emphasis on power will become even greater and the need for short-game creativity might not be so strong. Genius on and around the greens may no longer be required. Only brilliance. Allied of course with the experience and verve it takes to win any Major.
Most of the field possess at least one of the above attributes but to my mind at least only two players posses them all. Bubba Watson and Rory McIlroy (10/1).
Long off the tee but not necessarily the straightest (they don’t need to be on a course with very little rough) – they are both superb with their irons and creative around the greens, have won major championships and know what it’s like in the fulcrum of Sunday afternoon.
The tie-breaker is putting – both are streaky and have been known to miss as many as they make. In the end it might come down to carves out the most birdies chance over the week. Closest to the pin from the middle of the fairway wins.
If it comes down to that then, McIlroy, the best ball-striker in the modern game, will prevail. But it will be closer than close.