Tiger Woods walks off the seventh green during practice for the US Open Championship at The Olympic Club. Photo Eoin Clarke/www.golffile.ie)When Johnny Miller closed with a record-breaking 63 to win the 1973 US Open at Oakmont, the fallout was horrific.

The USGA was allegedly unhappy at this affront to its “toughest major” tag and the result was the 1974 Massacre at Winged Foot, where no-one broke par in the opening round and Hale Irwin won on seven over par.

“A lot of people say I’m to blame for what happened at Winged Foot,” Miller said. “And I can’t say I disagree. I don’t think they were too happy after I shot 63 at Oakmont.”

Nearly 40 years later we await the outcome of the 112th US Open at The Olympic Club certain of only one thing - Rory McIlroy will not finish on 16 under par.

The young Ulsterman smashed 11 US Open scoring records en route to an eight-shot victory last year. But as he prepares to take on a shortish course measuring 7,170 yards, promising to attack with his driver as often as possible, two giants of the modern game are squaring up for what could go down as one of the classic majors.

Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson have dominated the game for the past 15 years, winning 18 majors between them.

Their rivalry has been one-sided for the most part with Mickelson the whipping boy until he finally made his breakthrough at the 2004 Masters.

By that stage the major scoreboard between the two read Tiger 8, Phil 1. Over the last eight years Woods has won six majors to Mickelson’s four, yet when they joined by Masters champion Bubba Watson in a stellar threeball today, no-one can truly say that the left-hander won’t finally achieve his lifetime dream and take the first giant step towards a title that has tantalisingly eluded him so far.

With five runner-up finishes, no-one has come as close as often as Mickelson in the US Open without winning and with his nemesis alongside him, the Californian says he will doubly motivated to end his long wait in his 22nd appearance.

When asked if getting Woods was a good draw, Mickelson had no doubts.

“Fabulous,” he said. “I’ll tell you why.  First of all, I get excited to play with Tiger, I love it.  I think we all do.  He gets the best out of me.  I think when it’s time to tee off on Thursday I’ll be ready to play.  

“One of the issues I’ve had this year I’ve been a little mentally lethargic on Thursday and Friday. I won’t be this week.”

The left-hander, who turns 42 on Saturday, says he has a game plan. He’ll need one to survive the single-file fairways that are canted opposite the curve of the many doglegs, the four to six inch rough, the hard pan greens, the sly run-offs.

Explaining his excitement, Mickelson went on: “When we first started playing together, I don’t know what it was exactly, but I didn’t play my best when we were paired together.  

“And the last five years or so I’ve been able to focus clearly when we play.  I’ve been able to enjoy the challenge of playing with him and I’ve always enjoyed his company.  I’ve played some of my better golf these last five years with him.”

Set to turn 42 on Saturday, Mickelson is the fifth favourite with the bookies behind Woods, Lee Westwood, Luke Donald and McIlroy.

Yet the Olympic Club has been a graveyard for heroes over the years with the likes of Jack Fleck, Billy Casper, Scott Simpson and Lee Janzen triumphing over Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson and Payne Stewart in the four previous US Opens held at the storied San Francisco club.

Woods likes his chances of bagging his 15th major, and his first since 2008, on an old-school set up that is fast and firm and difficult.

“I’m excited about playing,” Woods said. “Excited about this golf course.”

He was excited about the Masters too but finished 40th on the back of a win at Bay Hill. He won in his last start, claiming his fifth Memorial Tournament 10 days ago but much will depend on his ability to hole putts when it matters, which is something that’s been missing from his game in the post-hydrant years.

The British have high hopes that world No 1 Luke Donald or No 3 Lee Westwood can break their major ducks. Yet Donald has yet to have a top 10 finish in a US Open, while Westwood’s balky putter remains the biggest obstacle to his quest.

McIlroy’s form on firm and fast courses does not lead to optimism but there is little to suggest that the other three Irishmen in the field can trouble the engravers.

Padraig Harrington’s erratic putting stroke, Graeme McDowell’s erratic form (he’s missed his last three cuts) and Peter Lawrie’s lack of experience, offer little encouragement.

Survival will be the name of the game with the first six holes rated the toughest in US Open history. The next nine are fraught with danger - rock hard greens with clever run offs into nasty chipping areas on some holes and deep rough on others. And while the final three offer two par-fives - one of them a 670-yard brute - and 344-yard finisher, there is disaster waiting at every turn.

“We’re all going to be trying to hit these little fairways and these little greens and somehow two-putt,” said Masters champion Watson. “Just a hard test of golf.”

Matt Kuchar said he was “flat out exhausted” after every round when he finished 14th in 1998.  

Par sounds like a very good score. Roll up, roll up. It’s going to be fun to watch. Playing might be a different story.