Every major championship has one or two prevailing story lines that seem to take center stage, often even before the first group tees off on Thursday morning. Usually the "hot player" of the month or year receives the most attention, followed by the "struggling veteran" or the "up-and-commer". Combined, these storylines make up what almost always becomes a stellar golf tournament than fans will remember for years after the fact.
In the case of this week's 2012 U.S. Open, fans will not be without their fair share of storyline options to follow.
First and foremost, this week's defending champion will be fresh in the minds of all viewers throughout the week. Rory McIlroy's historic major victory last June was one for the ages, one that not even Jack or Tiger ever matched at the Open in years prior. McIlroy's game has been suspect the last couple of months, however, having missed 3 of his last 4 tournament cuts before seemingly righting the ship last week at the FedEx St. Jude Classic. The young Northern Irish superstar is not without confidence, of course, and he looks primed and prepared to make another Open victory run deep into the weekend. Here's hoping his golf game is also up to the challenge.
Next we have perhaps the hottest player on the planet, Jason Dufner. To suggest that Dufner has had a stellar 2012 PGA Tour season up to this point would be an understatement. He has won twice on tour this season , including an impressive win at the Byron Nelson a few weeks ago (his second victory in three weeks). At this year's first major -- the Masters -- Dufner tied for the tournament lead after 36 holes before ultimately finishing T-24. At the end of 2011, which could mark the beginning of his hot streak, Dufner finished in second place at the PGA Championship before losing in a playoff with eventual champion Keegan Bradley. Counting Dufner out this week at the Olympic Club would be both inappropriate and unfortunate for any golf fan.
Speaking of the Masters, 2012 winner Bubba Watson returns to major tournament action for the first time since capturing the Green Jacket in April. Bubba has been M.I.A. as of late -- choosing to deal with more important family matters than playing in golf tournaments -- so his return to a course like the Olympic Club is likely to be shaky at best. Watson will also have the tournament spotlight on him the first two rounds for another reason entirely: his two playing partners in Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods.
Woods continues to be an enigma for all interested parties, which should cover most of professional golf's viewership. Love him or hate him -- there really is nothing in between nowadays -- Woods seems to have his golf game back on track after recording his second victory of the 2012 season at the Memorial two weeks ago. His embarrassing performance at this year's Masters is still fresh in the minds of all golf fans, including an unfortunate display of poor behavior that seemed to almost overshadow Watson's ultimate playoff victory. Tiger has another opportunity this week to silence any remaining critics, and it seems the USGA is doing their part to provide him the stage to make good on that opportunity.
Finally, we have the world #1-ranked player in Luke Donald, who still continues the good fight to not only win the first major of his career, but the respect and notoriety his rightfully deserves. You'll never hear him complain about anything on the course or off, but there seems to be an unspoken sense of "meh" surrounding Donald's career due to the lack of that one significant, career-defining victory on his resume. He and Rory McIlory can exchange places on the Official World Golf Rankings week after week, but none of that matters a bit until Donald can capture that first major.
This week's U.S. Open tournament is certainly shaping up to be one to remember for years to come. With any luck, one of the above mentioned players will step up to the teebox and punctuate his storyline with a victory come Sunday.