Luke Donald

Age: 33. Home town: Hemel Hempstead, England

Worldwide wins/ World ranking: 8/1

Best 2011 finish: 1, WGC-Accenture World Match Play Championship

Best U.S. Open finish: T12, 2006

The case against Donald is strong, because he is not a particularly long hitter, and he hasn't performed particularly well in the U.S. Open, with a tie for 47th, two missed cuts and a withdrawal in his last four tries. But now, he is playing the best golf of his career, and perhaps the best golf in the world. His run: 15 top-10 finishes in his last 16 events dating from last season, with nine of those in the top 5. His career record in majors doesn't dazzle. His dazzling golf recently, though, makes him a factor.

How he qualified: Top 30 money leaders from 2010 final PGA Tour money list, 2010 Tour Championship qualifiers, Top 15 money leaders from 2010 PGA European Tour money list, Top 10 money leaders from 2011 PGA Tour money list through May 23, Top five money leaders on 2011 PGA European Tour money list through May 23, Top 50 leaders on World Golf Rankings as of May 23, 18. Top 50 leaders on World Golf Rankings as of May 13.

Martin Kaymer

Age: 26. Home town: Mettmann, Germany

Worldwide wins/ World ranking: 9/3

Best 2011 finish: 1, Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship

Best U.S. Open finish: 8, 2010

Kaymer broke through with a playoff victory over Bubba Watson at last year's PGA Championship, and he followed that up by winning his next two starts, and he had a stint at No. 1 in the world rankings earlier in the season. He missed the cut at the Masters, but Augusta National simply doesn't suit his left-to-right ball flight, and that's in his head a bit. Kaymer, though, fits the German cliches — precise, machine-like — that might suit well to an Open, and his finish a year ago at Pebble Beach shows he can perform well when managing the game is more important than scoring.

How he qualified: PGA Championship winners past five years, 10 lowest scores and anyone who tied for 10th place at 2010 U.S. Open, Top 15 money leaders from 2010 PGA European Tour money list, Top five money leaders on 2011 PGA European Tour money list through May 23, Top 50 leaders on World Golf Rankings as of May 23, 18. Top 50 leaders on World Golf Rankings as of May 13.

Phil Mickelson

Age: 41 on Thursday. Home town: San Diego

Worldwide wins/World ranking: 41/5

Best 2011 finish: 1, Shell Houston Open

Best U.S. Open finish: 2nd/T2 1999, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2009

There are two sides to Mickelson's Open story: He is so regularly in contention that it proves his game and mind are built for it; or he wants it so badly — too badly — that he can't push himself over the top. He's certainly long enough to gain an advantage at Congressional, but since the Masters, he's focused on accuracy off the tee. If he can avoid the occasional lapse in focus — a missed four-footer, etc. — he should be there Sunday.

How he qualified: Masters winners past five years, 10 lowest scores and anyone who tied for 10th place at 2010 U.S. Open, Top 30 money leaders from 2010 final PGA Tour money list, 2010 Tour Championship qualifiers, Top 10 money leaders from 2011 PGA Tour money list through May 23, Top 50 leaders on World Golf Rankings as of May 23, 18. Top 50 leaders on World Golf Rankings as of May 13.

See how he's played Congressional in the past

Nick Watney

Age: 30. Home town: Sacramento

Worldwide wins/ World ranking: 3/14

Best 2011 finish: 1, WGC-Cadillac Championship

Best U.S. Open finish: T60, 2008

Much is expected of Watney, whose impressive victory over Dustin Johnson in March at Doral gave him a win in a field that included all of the top 50 players in the world. Though he withdrew from the Memorial two weeks ago because of an illness, he had top-10 finishes in his two previous events — including the Players Championship. He also has an experience from which to draw at a major: leading last year's PGA Championship after 54 holes, he could scarcely sleep, and shot a closing 81. "I hope I've learned from that," he said.

How he qualified: Top 30 money leaders from 2010 final PGA Tour money list, 2010 Tour Championship qualifiers, Top 10 money leaders from 2011 PGA Tour money list through May 23, Top 50 leaders on World Golf Rankings as of May 23, 18. Top 50 leaders on World Golf Rankings as of May 13.

See how he's played Congressional in the past

Lee Westwood

Age: 38. Home town: Worksop, England

Worldwide wins/ World ranking: 33/2

Best 2011 finish: 1, Ballantine's Championship, Indonesian Masters

Best U.S. Open finish: 3rd, 2008

When Westwood signed his scorecard after finishing as the runner-up at the 2010 Masters, winner Phil Mickelson told him, "Keep plugging away, and eventually it will happen." Westwood rose, for a time, to No. 1 in the world, but he still doesn't have a major — though his last six appearances have yielded two seconds and two thirds. He hasn't been seen stateside since the Masters, but won twice in Asia and was second to Luke Donald at Wentworth, England. Putt a bit more consistently, and Westwood could break through.

How he qualified: Top 15 money leaders from 2010 PGA European Tour money list.

Profiles by Barry Svrluga - The Washington Post. Published June 8, 2011.