Golf is a tough game to predict. Players can go from hot to cold quicker than Usain Bolt on an Olympic track, and it's impossible to predict when it'll happen.
That said, with some educated guesses—taking into account recent trends and analyzing statistics—it's a simple task to separate the true contenders from the pretenders at the 2013 U.S. Open.
The East Course at Merion Golf Club will play just under 7,000 yards, making it quite short compared to most courses hosting U.S. Opens. Don't let the length (or lack, thereof) fool you, though; Merion's far from short.
There happen to be some extremely short holes that disguise the fact that there are some true monsters lurking underneath the surface.
The USGA has taken great pains to give the world's best golfers as difficult a test as is reasonably possible. Narrow fairways, tiny greens, a myriad of bunkers and shaggy, inconsistent rough characterize the course.
Those who fail to bring their A-game to this tournament will go down in flames.
Contender: Tiger Woods
It will be more shocking if Woods misses the cut than it will be if he wins the tournament.
Don't be fooled by his bad showing at Muirfield Village two weeks ago. Woods struggled in the gusty conditions at the Memorial Tournament—as did many other top golfers. His performance was nothing more than an aberration.
In Woods' previous four stroke-play events, he won three of them and finished in fourth place at the Masters.
He is starting to hit fairways with more regularity, often opting to keep driver in the bag in favor of fairway woods and long irons. He's also been brilliant with his putter this season, ranking No. 5 on the PGA Tour in the "strokes gained - putting" category.
Tiger is back, and he's a true threat to win this year's U.S. Open.
Pretender: Phil Mickelson
After finishing in second place behind Matt Kuchar in the FedEx St. Jude Classic last weekend, Mickelson is a popular choice to play well again this weekend at Merion.
Unless Lefty discovers an inner fairway magnet, he's not going to perform well at the 2013 U.S. Open.
Not many players on tour are as inconsistent as Mickelson when it comes to hitting fairways off the tee. He ranks No. 160 out of 183, hitting fairways just 53.83 percent of the time. Even last week, when he played so well at TPC Southwind, he only managed to hit fairways 55.36 percent of the time.
Mickelson's wild driving will doom him at Merion.
Contender: Matt Kuchar
Woods is undoubtedly the top golfer of 2013 thus far, but nobody's been hotter of late than Matt Kuchar.
After finishing in second place at the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial, Kuchar won the Memorial Tournament, hitting fairways and greens at a prodigious pace, as noted by Plane Truth Golf:
A player who doesn't necessarily stand out from a statistical standpoint, Kuchar is simply dialed in right now. His smooth stroke off the tee and recent pin-point accuracy into the greens will serve him well at Merion.
Pretender: Adam Scott
Scott is an excellent golfer who is considered by some to be one of the contenders at the U.S. Open after his big breakthrough win at the Masters earlier this year.
Don't buy into the hype.
Scott has never played well at the U.S. Open.
In 11 previous attempts, Scott's best showing was a 15th-place finish in last year's tournament. He missed the cut the previous two years, and he's missed the cut six times total—more than half as often as he's participated.
Scott isn't particularly good on par threes. He's No. 166 on the PGA with a nine percent birdie-or-better rate, which doesn't bode well for his chances at Merion, where scoring well on par threes will be critical to winning.
The Aussie is also terrible off the tee. He ranks No. 90 on tour in fairways in regulation and No. 183 on tour in total driving.
Given Scott's history at this event, combined with his poor statistics in key areas, it's clear he'll struggle this weekend at Merion.
Note: Stats courtesy of the PGATour.com
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