Oakmont Country Club in western Pennsylvania has a reputation for brutality, as much as any beautiful, green place with manicured grass can.

The Oakmont course consistently winnows out all but the best over a 72-hole tournament, and six of the champions from the previous eight US Opens held there are World Golf Hall of Famers.

Defending champion Jordan Spieth, 22, of the United States enters with top-five finishes in his last five major tournaments, and ranks number two in the world as of June 5.

Since Spieth's US Open victory at Chambers Bay, Washington state, Australian Jason Day, 28, has won seven tournaments including the PGA Championship in August and zoomed to the world number-one ranking.

Both are the calibre of golfers who can find themselves in the last round on Sunday at Oakmont, with its 210 bunkers on the way to unforgiving greens.

The last US Open at Oakmont in 2007 saw Argentina's Angel Cabrera finish 5-over to edge out a one-stroke victory over Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk. The eight previous Opens at the private course east of Pittsburgh have seen only 23 players finish under par.

Oakmont Country Club's 1903 course is hosting its ninth US Open, on top of five US Amateurs, three PGA Championships and two US Women's Opens. The 7,254-yard, par-70 links regularly rank among the very toughest in America.

The par-4 hole 3 is famous for its diabolical "church pews" bunker, which runs the length of a football pitch off the left side of the fairway. The trap holds a dozen perpendicular grass berms, ensuring that any errant shot will be stopped in its tracks and - as punishment for the sin - followed by a long, challenging chip out of the sand.

The tournament winner will collect 600 points toward the FedEx Cup, the PGA tour's championship trophy, which Spieth won last year.

Other PGA young guns with high hopes include number-three Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland, who already holds four majors at 27; fifth-ranked US player Rickie Fowler, who remains on the hunt for his first major; and England's Danny Willett, who ranks ninth, fresh off his first major at the Masters in April.

Still looking to complete his career Grand Slam is 45-year-old Phil Mickelson, who has a record six second-place finishes in 26 starts at the US Open.

Oakmont opens for practice rounds Monday-Wednesday. First-round tee times start at 6:45 am (1045 GMT) Thursday.

Practice rounds on Tuesday could be interrupted by storms, and thunderstorms are forecast to mar the first day of play on Thursday, with a further chance of rain Friday. After the cut, the outlook for the weekend is excellent.

Japanese youngster Hideki Matsuyama and Spanish veteran Sergio Garcia, both with PGA tour victories this year, will be looking for their first major championship.

Tiger Woods recently announced that he was "not physically ready" for the rigours of a four-day tournament, and will miss the US Open for the third time in six years. The winner of 14 majors - including three US Open trophies - is recovering from two back surgeries last year and has not competed since August.

The withdrawal by Woods, whose mother is a native of Thailand, opened a spot for the next player on the alternate list, who turned out to be 23-year-old Thai golfer Thitiphun Chuayprakong.

The US Open field is expected to include all but one of the world's top 60, after Thailand's Thongchai Jaidee, ranked 51st, pulled out of the tournament last week.

Entering from the Japan sectional qualifier, Chuayprakong will be playing in his first major, after booking his first career Asian Tour victory last month at the Bangladesh Open.

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