World No 1 Dustin Johnson leads a string of in-form stars out to deny Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson another measure of major magic at the 118th US Open.
Woods, whose pursuit of Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 major victories has remained stalled at 14 since his 2008 Open triumph, will put his fused spine and gradually improving game to the test at Shinnecock Hills starting today.
Five-time major winner Mickelson will try to become just the sixth golfer to complete the career Grand Slam in a tournament in which he has settled for second a heartbreaking six times. Mickelson, who turns 48 on Saturday, would become the oldest Open champion and the second-oldest major winner in history should he pull off the feat.
"We're certainly on the back end of our careers," 42-year-old Woods admitted. "We've been going at it for 20-plus years. That's a long time."
But Woods and Mickelson remain front and center in the consciousness of golf fans - with Woods' return from the injury wilderness and Mickelson's return to form electrifying galleries and fueling television viewership this year.
Three-time major winner Jordan Spieth believes a career Grand Slam for Mickelson would trump an end to Woods' major drought. But Australian Jason Day disagrees.
"I think the biggest story would probably be Tiger," Day said. "Not taking anything away from Phil because winning the career Grand Slam is absolutely huge. But for what happened to Tiger, it's been 10 years, what he did in that period of when he dominated, and I think a lot of people are kind of chomping at the bit for him to come back and do something special - seeing if he can get back to winning and beating Jack's record."
Either outcome, however, would be a massive upset.
Johnson, the 2016 champion, arrives at Shinnecock as the top-ranked player in the world courtesy of an emphatic PGA Tour triumph in Memphis last week. He'll tee it up today and tomorrow alongside Woods and second-ranked Justin Thomas, who won his first major title at the PGA Championship last year.
Mickelson will play the first two rounds alongside Spieth and four-time major winner Rory McIlroy, who will be spurred by failures at the Masters and the European PGA Championship at Wentworth. Defending champion Brooks Koepka is rounding into form after an injury. Fellow American Rickie Fowler is a threat to break through for a first major title while Patrick Reed is eager to back up the maiden major he claimed at the Masters.