No Tiger Woods at US Open, but can Phil Mickelson win?

Tiger Woods is not competing in this year's US Open golf tournament, but a field of 156 golfers provides a number of story lines to consider. Phil Mickelson, who has finished second five times, is but one of many.

Kevin Lamarque/Reuters
England's Luke Donald (R) and his caddie Jon McLaren (L) look at his putt on the 11th green during the first round of the 2011 U.S. Open golf tournament at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Maryland, June 16.

The 111th US Open golf championship got underway Thursday morning at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md. It's a club that was founded by politicians and businessmen who wanted to get away from Washington's halls of power.

One golfer who didn't want to be away from Congressional, four-time former champion Tiger Woods, had to withdraw from the tournament just over a week ago, due to lingering leg injuries.

Meanwhile, another competitor who has come close to winning this championship is prepared for a run at the Open title. Phil Mickelson has finished second in this event five times, most infamously at the 2006 US Open, where, despite leading the tournament on the tee at the 72nd hole, proceeded to double bogey the final hole and lose to Geoff Oglivy. And while he may be a crowd favorite, the last time he played at Congressional (1997), he finished tied for 43rd. Is he a better player today?

Defending champion Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland is trying to get his game to resemble something close to his US Open performance from a year ago. McDowell shot a final round 79 while in contention for the Players Championship last month and final round 81 in Wales this month.

Englishmen Luke Donald and Lee Westwood are also expected to contend this week for the US national championship.

The US Open, unlike the Masters, is open to any professional or amateur golfer with a USGA handicap rating below 1.4. In practice, about half the field is exempt from qualifying. The other half must go through a two-stage qualification process. Often, at the US Open, golf club "pros" or teachers are among those in the field.

One of the story lines already developing is around qualifier Marc Turnesa, who comes from a New York golfing family who taught and played the game. He will be the 46th Turnesa to play in the US Open.

Similarly, Sam Saunders is the grandson of Arnold Palmer, who won this tournament back in 1960. Saunders, who has also played in a handful of PGA Tour events, reached the US Open field by way of the grueling qualifiers.

Another standard feature of the US Open is that the courses are as challenging as they come. Fairways tend to be narrow, roughs deep, and greens fast. Winning scores are often close to par, or even above par.

This will the third US Open to be played at Congressional, just outside our nation's capital. Ken Venturi captured the title in 1964 and Ernie Els won it in 1997.

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