Will field find red scores at Olympic?

And which under-the-radar player can win 112th U.S. Open?

Updated: June 11, 2012, 2:33 PM ET
ESPN.com

The year's second major championship is upon us as golf's elite gather in San Francisco for the 112th playing of the United States Open.

So how will the Olympic Club play this week? And what chances do the likes of Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy have?

Our experts tackle those topics and more in our latest edition of Monday Four-Ball.


1. You can take Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy or the rest of the field to win the U.S. Open. Which do you choose?


Farrell Evans, ESPN.com senior golf writer: It's hard to predict with any certainty who will win any major. The best players don't always win. Someone from the field, especially at the quirky setups in the U.S. Open, will come out on top at Olympic.

Bob Harig, ESPN.com senior golf writer: The rest of the field. Even in Tiger's heyday, you'd be hard-pressed to not take the field over one or a trio of players. It is just too difficult to pick one player to win one specific tournament, or in this case, three. What about No. 1 Luke Donald? Jason Dufner? Matt Kuchar? Too many other players are capable.

Ian O'Connor, ESPNNewYork.com columnist: I'm taking the field, and a review of previous Olympic winners (Jack Fleck, Billy Casper, Scott Simpson, Lee Janzen) explains why. Those guys weren't the biggest names in the sport at the time, and recent Opens at other venues have allowed for second-tier stars and players virtually unknown to the casual fan (hello, Lucas Glover) to break through.

In a sport as unpredictable and maddeningly difficult as golf, I'll always take 150-plus players over three, especially if one of the three (Phil) has never won the Open.

Gene Wojciechowski, ESPN.com senior national columnist: Are you kidding me? The rest of the field. Favorites and Olympic Club don't get along at the U.S. Open. Just look at the past winners. Upset city.


2. Will the U.S. Open winner at Olympic be under par, even par or above par?


Farrell Evans: An under-par score is likely with some of the changes that were made to the course since 1998 that made it unfair on a few holes. But the winner won't reach 10 under par.

Bob Harig: Under par. But just barely. Perhaps 2 or 3 under will win the championship, based on the various reports about the course's difficulty and setup. There is the potential for carnage this year, but that doesn't mean somebody, at least one player, won't manage to get into red numbers.

Ian O'Connor: I like under par to win, but certainly not the 16-under Rory McIlroy posted at Congressional.

Yes, USGA blazers have a history of taking punitive measures when Open scoring goes too low for their liking, but USGA executive director Mike Davis strikes me as a reasonable sort who understands that this is entertainment, too, and the public would like to see the world's best players make an occasional birdie. I think 2-under wins this championship.

Gene Wojciechowski: If it's up to the USGA, it will be over par. And since the USGA has a tiny mean streak, I'm going with over par.


3. Give us an under-the-radar player who might contend for the U.S. Open.


Farrell Evans: Jonathan Byrd is the kind of steady and resilient player who has the game and temperament to tame Olympic. As a five-time PGA Tour winner, he's proven that he knows how to play under pressure. He controls his ball flight as well as anybody in the game and has a sure putting stroke.

Bob Harig: Zach Johnson. Not sure he's that under the radar, but he is unlikely to be mentioned among the favorites. Johnson seemingly has the game for Olympic. He won recently at the Colonial. He's proven himself in big situations.

Ian O'Connor: In a major that often rewards patient, methodical play, why not Kevin Na, maybe the slowest good player on the planet? The fact he missed the cut at the Memorial doesn't bother me too much. Na has five top-10s and eight top-20s this season, and I like the fact he's faced his can't-pull-the-trigger problem head-on, in a most cathartic way.

Maybe I'm a sucker for a good story, because Na conquering his demons at Olympic would certainly qualify.

Gene Wojciechowski: That's pretty much all that wins U.S. Opens at Olympic Club -- under-the-radar players. If Jason Dufner or Zach Johnson are under-the-radar guys, then those are my picks.


4. Fact or fiction: The USGA will protect par even more this year due to Rory McIlroy's record-setting performance in 2011.


Farrell Evans: Fiction: Rory McIlroy's masterful performance last year at Congressional was an embarrassment to the USGA. Mike Davis, the USGA boss, has promised a stiffer test this year at the Olympic Club, but I don't think they will trick the course up to simply stay around par.

Bob Harig: Fiction. The USGA does not need to go out of its way to protect par at Olympic. The golf course will do just fine on its own.

Ian O'Connor: Fact. Everyone saw what happened at Winged Foot in '74 after Johnny Miller's forever final round at Oakmont the year before. The empire will strike back, but Mike Davis won't go too far. Olympic will provide a much tougher test than Congressional did, but it will be a fair test -- unlike Winged Foot in '74 or Shinnecock in '04.

Gene Wojciechowski: Fact, but with an asterisk. I think they'll protect par because they hate seeing red on the leaderboard.