Commentary

Open challenge

Navigating Congressional will be demanding for every golfer in the field, but these five pros will arrive at the U.S. Open with something to prove

Updated: June 6, 2011, 12:33 PM ET
By LaRue Cook | ESPN The Magazine

Phil MickelsonHarry How/Getty ImagesAt the U.S. Open, Phil Mickelson has finished second five times. Does he have what it takes this year?

This story appears in the June 13, 2011 issue of ESPN The Magazine.

Phil Mickelson
40 USA
OWGR: 5
Best U.S. Open finish: 2 (1999, 2002, '04, '06, '09)

Lefty's been Mr. Consistent, making every cut so far this season, with one win and four top-10s, and is the second-highest Yank currently in the world rankings. While winning four majors has gotten one monkey off his back, a U.S. Open record five runner-ups has provided him with another. His chokes are legendary, from the double bogey on 18 at Winged Foot in 2006 to the two bogeys over the last five holes in 2009 and 2010. It's the major Phil covets most but Congressional's 523-yard, par-4 18th won't make it easy.

Tiger Woods
35 USA
OWGR: 15
Best finish: 1 (2000, '02, '08)

Watching Woods win his 14th major and third U.S. Open in 2008 -- on one leg -- it seemed impossible to imagine that it might be his last. Hobbled and humbled, Tiger has fallen out of the world Top 10 for the first time in 14 years. He's played in just seven events on Tour this season, and has been hard pressed to find consistency in any aspect of his game. He won the AT&T National at Congressional in '09, and despite Achilles and knee problems, he's determined to end the longest winless streak of his career.

K.J. Choi
41 South Korea
OWGR: 16
Best finish: T15 (2005)

Choi comes in hot, with five top-10s, a No. 2 spot on the money list and a gutsy playoff win at the Players, the most significant victory of his career to date. He dominated a shorter, friendlier Congressional course, winning the 2007 AT&T National by three strokes, but with 300 yards added for the track's third Open, no one's running away with this one. Choi may be the most accomplished Asian player on Tour, but his majors resume doesn't stack up, showing just two top-fives. And at age 41, time may be running out.

Lee Westwood
38 England
OWGR: 2
Best finish: 3 (2008)

The plucky Brit has yet to pick up a PGA Tour win in 2011, but he's been busy on the other side of the Pacific. Over a two-week span in late April, Westwood won the Indonesian Masters and the Ballantine's Championship in South Korea. Despite claiming a trophy on every continent, the world's No. 2 is still looking to earn his first major. His troubles seem to come when it counts most: Westwood carded a combined seven final-round bogeys after starting the day with the lead at the 2008 U.S. Open and 2010 Masters.

Dustin Johnson
26 USA
OWGR: 9
Best finish: T8 (2010)

At 7,574 yards, Congressional will play as the second- longest track in the Open's 111-year history. The layout favors bombers like Johnson. The four-year pro averages 307.1 yards off the tee, good for fourth on tour, and he leads the PGA on par 4's, scoring birdie-or-better 22.3 percent of the time. He has the game to win, but needs to show he's got the moxie. Last year, he blew a three-stroke lead on Sunday with an 82 at Pebble Beach, then coughed up a shot at the PGA Championship by grounding his club in a hazard on the closing hole.

LaRue Cook is a researcher/reporter for ESPN The Magazine.