It may stick in our nationalistic craws, but the plain fact is that defending champions at the US Open traditionally do not fare well. New Zealand's Michael Campbell could be an exception to the rule - after all, he was playing poorly before he won the US Open last year - and so could Tiger Woods, who has not played competitively for weeks on end.

So while those two could be fairly placed in the "do not discount" pile, particularly if Woods brings his 'careful' game to Winged Foot, who are the other golfers to threaten Mickelson?

The US Masters champion is trying to emulate Woods by winning a "Tiger Slam" in owning all four major crowns at once (although not in the same year). He needs the US Open and British Open titles to go with this year's Masters title and the 2005 US PGA championship.

To find likely foes for Phil, you need to look at the nature of the Winged Foot course. Singed foot might be more accurate - as the tough, dogleg layout and the punitive rough have burned many golfers before, the most famous example being Hale Irwin's seven-over par win in 1974.

The greens are another major factor - nasty, slick contoured things with slippery surfaces that once saw even Jack Nicklaus putt off the green. It pays to put approach shots underneath the hole as most of the greens slope steeply back towards the fairway.

But get your iron shot a few centimetres off the optimum and the ball can fail to hold the green and funnel back to fairway or bunker. So that means we are looking for the perfect golfer - long but straight off the tee, with irons of precision and a putter with a delicate feel.

Such a creature does not exist, of course, at least no one who does it all the time. But there are some who might be able to put it together - or rather, hold it together - to avoid being stomped on by Winged Foot.

The rest of the "Big Five" - Vijay Singh, Ernie Els and Retief Goosen - have all been playing well below their best lately and many will write them off as chances. But Singh has shown signs of a vigorous return to form and Els has the talent to come right at any time. However, Goosen, a good player of tough courses, could be the best bet from this elite group.