As the U.S. Open returns to what its organizers call "the cathedral of American golf," here are 10 things you need to know heading into next week's championship at Pebble Beach that begins Thursday:
1. Tiger's chances: If Jack Nicklaus is willing to say Tiger Woods is the favorite, why argue? Woods' win at The Masters snapped his 11-year drought for a major championship, and as Woods recently said, "It validated that I can still do it at the highest level."
Now, he won't win by 15 shots like he did in historic fashion at Pebble in 2000, for the first of his three U.S. Open titles. But he could win, and that seemed illogical not too long ago.
After missing the cut at the PGA Championship in New York, Woods sought refuge with a practice round at Pebble two weeks ago, and he then tied for ninth at The Memorial to regain momentum for the U.S. Open.
2. Koepka three-peat: Brooks Koepka, fresh off winning the PGA, is seeking a third straight U.S. Open victory, a hat trick previously accomplished by only Willie Anderson in 1905. The USGA has enough data on Koepka to make Pebble as daunting as possible, but forget about this being the second coming of Augusta's "Tiger-proof" attempts nearly 20 years ago.
"We don't want to Koepka-proof it, man! We'd love to see him win," said USGA's John Bodenhamer, who's succeeded Mike Davis in overseeing course set-up. "Think about that: three in a row. That is amazing. Curtis Strange is the last one that had that opportunity (in 1990)."
3. Green conditions: Remember a year ago when Phil Mickelson chased down and stopped his putt as an affront to the USGA's annual course-related demons? "Look, it's not lost on us. Last year, some of what happened is not what we wanted," Bodenhamer said.
Pebble's greens won't resemble 2018 Shinnecock. Aside from smaller targets, keeping Pebble's Poe Annua greens smooth and green is a challenge. Bodenhamer vows they will be "a little bit slower" than the 2010 version here with more options for hole locations. While one eye is on the greens' conditions, the other will be on the forecast, and whether a marine layer will make for softer landings or if blustery winds will cause familiar havoc. Also of note: Pebble renovated the greens on Nos. 9, 13, 14 and 17.
4. Boycott talk: Will this U.S. Open indeed be the last straw for golfers frustrated over recent course and rule issues, or are they just bluffing? A Golf Digest survey recently revealed some players threatened to boycott the U.S. Open. One of them, Rory McIlroy, told reporters May 29 at The Memorial in Ohio: "We should give (the USGA) the chance to redeem themselves. If they can't redeem themselves at Pebble Beach, then there could be a problem."
Bodenhamer's stance on this year's goal: "They have to showcase the very best of who they are. It's about them. We just want to get out of the way of it, so when they do what they do, that's the show."
5. Mickelson's mission: A six-time U.S. Open runner-up, Mickelson struts in with positive mojo to try completing his career grand slam. Four months ago, after he won his fifth AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, he downplayed its impact on his U.S. Open hopes: "There's really no carryover other than I really enjoy this place and seem to play some of my best golf here." This week, however, Mickelson found more mojo in Pebble Beach when he hit a hole-in-one at CBS commentator Jim Nantz' backyard replica of the famed 7th hole.
6. D.J.'s revenge: Dustin Johnson blew a three-shot lead entering the final round of the 2010 U.S. Open, and he's ready to avenge that collapse. He said at Wednesday's PGA Tour event in Canada: "I'm playing pretty solid. I feel like the game's in good form. Obviously had a pretty good week at the PGA a couple weeks ago." Johnson placed second behind at the PGA, after tying with Koepka and Xander Schauffele for runner-up honors at The Masters. Johnson is three years removed from his only major victory: the 2016 U.S. Open at Oakmont.
7. Foreign flavor. As Johnson faded at Pebble in 2010, Graeme McDowell (Northern Island) won by finishing a stroke better than Gregory Havret (France) and two fewer than Ernie Els (South Africa). McDowell hasn't threatened for a major title since then, and he tied for 29th at the recent PGA.
Francesco Molinari (Italy) is the reigning British Open champ who settled for fifth after faltering in The Masters. Other past major champions to watch are McIlroy (Northern Ireland), Jason Day (Australia), Justin Rose (England), Martin Kaymer (Germany) and Sergio Garcia (Spain). Don't sleep on Tommy Fleetwood (England) after he shot a final-round 63 to finish second in last year's U.S. Open, and Jon Rahm (Spain) is good entertainment, too.
8. Past champions: Making these sacred grounds even more special is the honor roll of past U.S. Open winners here: Jack Nicklaus (1972), Tom Watson (1982), Tom Kite (1992), Woods (2000) and McDowell (2010). Not a bad fraternity to rush.
"You think about adding your name to the list that's won here: Jack, Tom, Tom, Tiger, Graham. Who wouldn't want that?" Bodenhamer said.
"I got an email from Tom Watson and I'll share that with you: 'When I was growing up and my dad told me, 'If you could ever win the National Open, you will have done something special, you will win on the toughest test and that will set you apart from everybody else.' We hear those things from the guys. That's what we endeavor to do."
9. Local qualifiers: Of the 8,602 who started at local qualifiers, a handful with Northern California roots made it into the 156-man field: Joseph Bramlett (San Jose; Stanford), Noah Norton (Chico) and Hayden Shieh (Fremont).
Norton, a junior at Georgia Tech, told the USGA upon his qualifying: "There are no words to describe it. Pebble is the closest major championship to my house. So it happens that this is my first major. Pretty crazy." Bramlett, 21, qualified for the U.S. Amateur at age 14, became an All-American at Stanford and has five top-20 finishes on the Web.com Tour this year. Shieh, 23, played college golf at Santa Clara and made all-conference four times.
10. Pebble updates: The course's aerial view may resemble past U.S. Opens but Pebble has made a few upgrades to its grounds that fans will notice: a bigger practice facility to watch golfers lose their shanks, a sparkling new visitor's center to tell the course's 100-year-old history and new lodging along the first hole. Among the myriad concession stands and party tents on the course, a 10th-fairway viewing deck called "Harper's" for honorary U.S. Open chairman R.J. Harper, Pebble Beach's iconic executive who died in 2017.