Especially due to the struggles of the only players in front of him in the world rankings, it isn't too far-fetched to consider Adam Scott among the favorites for the 2013 U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club.
The Masters champion hasn't fared too badly since his triumph at Augusta National, finishing tied for 19th at The Players Championship and joint 13th most recently at the Memorial.
Reigning U.S. Open winner Webb Simpson missed the cut at Muirfield Village and will have to rediscover his form quickly if he's meant to mount a legitimate defense of his title.
Speaking of struggling, it was a shocking display to say the least in Dublin, Ohio for world No. 1 Tiger Woods. He had never won four times on tour entering the Memorial in any previous season, but it didn't translate to more positive results, as Woods finished nine-over.
Rory McIlroy romped at the 2012 PGA Championship by eight strokes and had an electric campaign a season ago. However, he's winless this year and struggled at the Memorial in finishing tied for 57th. It is noteworthy, though, that he finished the last three rounds on even par.
One other player worth looking at is Matteo Manassero. The 20-year-old Italian prodigy won the BMW PGA Championship on the European Tour just weeks ago and followed up with a tie for fourth at the Nordea Masters. That has him fluttering a bit under the radar as he looks to Ardmore, Pennsylvania, yet he's nevertheless a force to be reckoned with.
Let's try to figure out where these top-flight golfers will finish in the year's second major.
Note: All statistics and information, unless otherwise indicated, are courtesy of PGATour.com.
The Aussie's game isn't in bad form, and with another week to fine-tune and an experienced caddy in Stevie Williams on the bag, his odds should be favorable.
Frankly, what will be the biggest key to Scott's success is his short game. With the exception of 2004, he was a mess on the greens. In ranking 50th in strokes gained-putting thus far this season, he is stroking it as well as he has in nearly a decade.
Unless your name is Tiger Woods, though, pulling off two majors in a row is nearly unheard of—especially since it took Scott so long to get his first one.
Breaking through is the most difficult, and it's not as if Scott doesn't have the talent to get it done again. The biggest thing working against Scott is his past success at U.S. Opens.
Check out this statistic, though, per ESPN's Justin Ray:
Never has Scott finished better than a tie for 15th last year, and he's missed six of 11 cuts overall. When grinding out pars is the name of the game, that's not usually the setting best reserved for Scott.
In order to truly compete, Scott's ball-striking will have to be spot-on. If it's even moderately off—which it has been lately—his chances of sniffing the trophy are rather slim. He should have a respectable result, but nothing particularly memorable.
Projected Finish: Top 12
Missing the cut at last year's Memorial turned out not to matter at all for Simpson ahead of his landmark major victory at Olympic Club.
However, it's been an extremely inconsistent 2013 campaign for Simpson thus far. Since his U.S. Open win, he hasn't taken home any hardware, and with the exception of losing in a playoff at the RBC Heritage, Simpson hasn't quite played up to the level he's capable of.
If you're not into belly putters, you probably don't care much for Simpson's U.S. Open victory, and his win last year further polarizes the debate on the issue.
There aren't many golfers who are better at grinding for par than Simpson, which makes him a threat at this venue–especially since it doesn't require a lot of power to succeed.
One red flag is that Simpson ranks 72nd in scoring average before the cut. It usually takes him until moving day to gain any traction, but in what should be a tightly competitive field, he may be too late to make a serious push for a repeat.
Simpson will make the cut but won't be a top contender this time around.
Projected Finish: Top 40
Not much can be articulated or written to explain Woods' meltdown at the Memorial last week. Finding fairways wasn't a problem, but his iron play was a bit looser, and his hot putter wasn't as scalding as it's been throughout 2013.
His career-worst nine holes of 44 was shocking to say the least, especially at a tournament he had won five previous times.
As Shane Bacon of Yahoo! documents, though, Woods is still the prohibitive favorite at 9-2 despite not winning a major since the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines—a venue Woods is known to love.
One positive sign concerning Woods' otherwise poor display at the Memorial was how frequently he found the short grass off the tee. Merion dictates shot-making, often forcing players to pull fairway metals and irons for their first shots.
That's right in Woods' wheelhouse, because the driver tends to betray him even when he has his "A-game."
If that putter gets back on track, there is no reason to think Woods won't finish near the top in the U.S. Open. However, he hasn't proven himself on this type of stage in years. Until he does, it's hard to pick him to emerge victorious.
Prediction: Third place
The uncanny ability McIlroy has to bounce back is enviable. Whether it was his collapse at the 2011 Masters and subsequent runaway win at the U.S. Open or overcoming a midseason slump to win the PGA Championship by a record margin last year, McIlroy has some steely resolve.
Is it time for McIlroy to break out of his latest spell?
With the talent and dominance McIlroy has flashed in the past, a turnaround is inevitable. The question lies in when it will happen, and it's among the great storylines of suspense and mystery in the game today.
McIlroy nearly missed his second cut in a row at the Memorial Tournament. Thankfully, he was able to save par at No. 18 to wrap up his third round to make the cut on the number—much to his relief:
A poor effort on the greens lately has dropped McIlroy to 122nd in strokes gained-putting. That's not going to get it done at a major.
However, ball-striking has not been an issue at all outside of his blowup 78 in the opening round at Muirfield. McIlroy ranks fourth on tour in greens in regulation percentage, and if his flatstick gets hot, a rapid turnaround could happen as soon as his next event.
At the moment, a second U.S. Open in three years seems highly unlikely for the Northern Irishman. Don't sleep on him, though, because he's been known to shock the world when he gets off the mat with a vengeance.
Some players are built for the big moment. McIlroy has struggled to get up for tournaments this season, but I have a feeling this is where he finally puts it all together and nabs his first "W."
No one experienced a better two-week stretch across the pond than Manassero, who showcased improved firepower after getting some fine-tuning from his coach.
Now, he's suddenly ranked No. 26 in the world and appears poised to be a factor in a major championship for the first time.
The reason for this is not only his recent form but also how his game fits Merion. It's a shorter course that's reliant on precision and a magnificent touch around the greens—both of which are Manassero's greatest assets as a player.
Manassero is first in the Race to Dubai—no small task. Neither is the fact that Manassero has four professional victories at age 20. That's more than Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy had combined, per CBS Sports.
Those wins have come in each of the past four seasons, so when Manassero is in contention, he already knows how to close the deal in high-profile events.
Maybe it's not quite time for Manassero to win a major. Having said that, don't be surprised if he's a significant factor on Sunday.
Projected Finish: Top 10