Five players to watch at the U.S. Open

Five players to watch as the U.S. Open gets underway Thursday at Merion Golf Club:

Tiger Woods: Woods has been stuck on 14 major championships since 2008, when he beat Rocco Mediate on injured knee in a playoff at Torrey Pines. So the drum beat continues: Is this the year Woods gets back on track in his pursuit of Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 majors? With his four victories in eight events this year, it might be.

Adam Scott: He broke through at Augusta and has scaled back his tournament schedule in recent years to better focus on the majors (he’s played twice since). He’d gone 47 consecutive majors before winning the Masters and doesn’t want to wait that long again.

Phil Mickelson: He was scheduled to get off an airplane a few hours before his 7:11 a.m. starting time Thursday (he was in San Diego to watch his daughter graduate from eighth grade Wednesday). How much impact will that have on the chances of Mickelson, a perennial favorite at the Open who has yet to win one (a record five runner-up finishes)?

Graeme McDowell: McDowell knows how to win this tournament (at Pebble Beach in 2010). He finished tied for second in ’12 to Webb Simpson and has a victory this season (Hilton Head). Hasn’t played well in big tournaments, though, missing the cut at the Masters and Players.

Brandt Snedeker: After a great start to the season, we haven’t heard much from Snedeker (he missed the cut at Memorial and Memphis). But he’s straight off the tee, which is an advantage at Merion.

David Scott, Charlotte Observer