The first tee at Merion Golf Club is very close to the historic clubhouse.
A field of 156 travels to suburban Philadelphia this week for the 113th playing of the U.S. Open and will find a treasure trove of history, eclectic and iconic golf holes, and the possibility of a very special experience at Merion Golf Club in pursuit of the nation’s championship.
It will take at least 72 holes to determine a champion, but we know many of the contenders and favorites well in advance of Thursday's first shot.
Many eyes will be on the headline-grabbing pairing of Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Masters champion Adam Scott for the first two rounds. Including two of those three, ahead we'll highlight a few favorites and contenders as the week begins.
Adam Scott will need all of Stevie Williams' experience at Merion.
The current Masters champion definitely has the game to be considered a favorite this week.
Adam Scott's season has been a good one, even without the Masters title he won. He's had three top-10 finishes and has made the cut for every event he's played.
Perhaps Scott's biggest challenge will be the post-Masters hangover.
He’s had a pair of top 20s since that rainy day in Georgia—certainly not bad performances, but he’ll need to step it up at Merion.
One of the advantages he’ll have at Merion is that he hits the ball high, which will help in trying to keep his approach shots on the venerable club’s smallish greens.
Matt Kuchar is on a roll coming into the U.S. Open.
Matt Kuchar will come into the Open as the hottest golfer on the planet, having posted second- and first-place finishes in his last two starts.
That gives him six top-10 finishes in 14 starts in 2013 and makes him a bona fide player in majors. Since 2010, he has five top 10s in majors and a pair of missed cuts.
At 35, Kuchar is in his prime and is definitely playing like it.
He’s fourth in scoring average on the PGA Tour (69.739), but he will need to sharpen his accuracy both off the tee (No. 134 on the Tour) and into the greens (No. 68) to be around late Sunday afternoon.
This could be Kuchar’s coming-out party, and it's a great place to win his first major title.
His performance at the Memorial Tournament was forgettable, but he has a chance to be unforgettable at Merion.
It doesn’t matter that Tiger Woods and Merion, with all its shortness and tightness, seem to be a bad fit.
The world’s No. 1 player has shown a real knack for working his way around a golf course with clubs lower than a driver, and Merion is the perfect place for that. Assuming he’s able to hit those three-wood stingers into the fairway and make putts for four days, the major-less drought will end.
Woods hasn’t won an Open since 2008, when he prevailed in a playoff over Rocco Mediate.
Much has changed with Woods and his game since then, and he’s ready to earn his 15th major title.
His meltdown at the Memorial Tournament, where he finished tied for 65th with an eight-over, is irrelevant.
Charl Schwartzel definitely has the game to win a U.S. Open title.
The man with one of the sweetest swings in professional golf and a green jacket for winning the 2011 Masters seems to be a natural contender for Merion.
He’s a straight shooter, and that quality will never hurt a player at a short course like Merion.
He’s 30th in driving distance (294.9), 24th in greens in regulation (68.3 percent), 32nd in strokes gained putting, sixth in birdie average per round (4.15) and third in scoring average (69.589). That well-rounded game typically keeps Schwartzel competitive, as evidenced by his five top-20 finishes in 10 events this year.
He made four birdies to finish the final round at the Masters, and if he can do that at Merion, he’ll deserve to win.
Can Jason Day make it back-to-back majors for Australia?
Based on his strong third-place performance at the Masters in April, Jason Day appears to be the next great Australian golfer and most likely the next major winner from Down Under.
He finished second in the 2011 U.S. Open and now appears ready to take that next step up the ladder of golf's elite.
With his combination of power (just under 300 yards per drive) and grace (No. 3 on the tour in sand save percentage), Day is as good a choice as anybody to finish in the top five at Merion.
And just how cool would it be to have back-to-back major champions from the same country?
Graeme McDowell hopes to get his game back to U.S. Open-winning level.
You remember Graeme McDowell, don’t you? 2010 U.S. Open champion at Pebble Beach?
Well, you may not be the only one. The native of Northern Ireland hadn’t won on the PGA Tour since that victory, but he beat Webb Simpson in a playoff at Harbour Town last month.
He’s not long off the tee, but he ranks first in driving accuracy (71.10 percent of fairways hit) and has played consistently well this season, figuring in at No. 7 on the PGA Tour in score per round (69.956).
Justin Rose: Looking through rose-colored glasses?
As the No. 5-ranked player in the world, Justin Rose should undoubtedly be listed among the contenders to win a U.S. Open title.
He hasn’t had much success in this event, with a tie for fifth and tie for 10th his best efforts in seven tries.
All the same, Rose might be Europe’s best hope for a win this week.
He’s having a good year statistically, ranking in the top 10 in five performance stats on the PGA Tour, including No. 1 in sand save percentage and No. 2 in all-around ranking.
Rose may be feeling the pressure heading into this major. He’s 32 years old and needs to step up and make his mark on golf’s biggest stages.
Will Phil Mickelson's erratic long game get him through the U.S. Open?
Phil Mickelson is an almost obligatory pick for two reasons.
He has won four major titles, so he certainly has the skill set to pull it off again.
The other reason? He has to be the most unpredictable player on the PGA Tour, not only this year but for the last several.
So, which Mickelson is going to show up at Merion? Will it be the guy who shot 28 under par to blow away the field at the Waste Management Phoenix Open in February?
Or will it be the guy who tied for 54th in the Masters? No one knows for sure, and that’s what makes Mickelson an exciting pick.
His magical short game (No. 1 in birdie average), although it was less than stellar in his most recent outing, gives him an advantage.
Can Webb Simpson become the first repeat U.S. Open winner since Curtis Strange?
Defending champion Webb Simpson has experience at Merion, having gotten to the third round of match play in the 2005 U.S. Amateur there and having played some corporate outings there since.
His statistics to this point in the season don’t inspire a lot of confidence for the week ahead—he lies outside the top 25 in most standard categories, save, notably, for birdie average (No. 22)—but he’s been the most recent player to survive four rounds of U.S. Open pressure.
At Olympic Club last year, Simpson had a great ball-striking week. He'll need to do the same this week at tight, short Merion.
Brandt Snedeker would be a very popular U.S. Open champion.
Snedeker’s rib problems have derailed what started out as a spectacular season, but he’s getting more and more healthy each week.
He’s one of the best putters on the PGA Tour, and that skill has won many U.S. Open titles.
Merion is the kind of course that suits Snedeker’s game, and if he is on point, he’ll be in it the whole way.
Winning the nation's championship would be a great story to cap his comeback.