As the 2013 U.S. Open is set to tee off Thursday morning, the experts' picks are rolling in and they don't all include favorite Tiger Woods.
In fact, there are a handful of worthy stars who are gunning for the year's second major and are playing the quality golf to back it up.
With so many big names and contenders in the field at Merion Golf Club this year, let's take a look at the underrated stars that experts are talking about most this weekend.
An incredibly underrated player for much of his career, Matt Kuchar is starting to get love from golf experts and fans alike.
ESPN columnist Gene Wojciechowski slotted Kuchar as his "birdie buster" in their all-encompassing U.S. Open preview and predictions article, saying, "This one is easy. Matt Kuchar's game is so hot he needs heat tiles to re-enter the Earth's atmosphere. He has the game, the disposition and the confidence to win a U.S. Open."
He wasn't alone in his endorsement, as Sports Illustrated and Golf.com expert John Garrity picked Kuchar to win his first major at Merion.
I'll take Matt Kuchar, even though he hasn't been driving it that well. He's got a great U.S. Open temperament; he doesn't demand perfection of himself. Plus, I can't imagine him not winning a major before he hangs up his spikes.
After winning the Memorial and finishing in second place at the Crowne Plaza Invitational, there isn't a hotter golfer in the field than Kuchar. It seems as if the experts have finally realized that.
No experts have picked Johnson as their winner at Merion, but his name has generated a little buzz for being a big underdog heading into the weekend.
Jeff Babineau, the editor of Golfweek, gave his endorsement for Johnson as his underdog in the U.S. Open: "Underdog: Zach Johnson. Wedge play and putting will be huge this week, and this guy can wedge it and roll it with the very best."
ESPN.com senior golf writer Bob Harig also chimed in on Johnson, slotting him as his "super sleeper" pick and also noted the strengths from his short game, writing, "The 2007 Masters champion is coming off a poor Memorial and has had an up-and-down year. But Merion should be made for his solid wedge and putting game."
Johnson has been in the hunt for his second major victory on many occasions, but he hasn't executed enough to make it a reality. Perhaps that could change this weekend at Merion.
Not much talk has been made of Graeme McDowell in recent majors, but that's never the case at the U.S. Open. The 2010 champion always brings his best for this tournament, and this year should be no exception.
He's gained plenty of steam as a trendy pick for this year, despite seven of the last eight U.S. Open champions being first-time major winners.
ESPN's Bob Harig picked McDowell as his champion at Merion.
The 2010 U.S. Open champion has two victories since the Masters—one on the PGA Tour, one in Europe—and Merion is seemingly made for him. McDowell finished second to Simpson last year.
The folks at Golfweek are also keen on the former champ, as both Babineau and senior writer Jim McCabe pegged McDowell as their pick to win it all.
Babineau: "Love his temperament and his toughness for this championship. Won the Open in '10 and had a great chance last summer at Olympic. With his current form, there's no reason why he shouldn't be a factor at Merion. Biggest question: Can a guy drink Guinness from a wicker basket?"
McCabe: "Not everyone embraces the U.S. Open philosophy, but the man from Northern Ireland isn't one of them. He clearly gets it. Has never missed a cut in seven starts and has quietly established himself as a formidable force in this fairways-and-greens test: He won in 2010 and is T-14 and T-2 in his last two tries. McDowell has seen Merion and the good news is, he loves it."
McDowell has surely had his fair share of success at the U.S. Open, but that won't stop him from attempting to add to his legacy there this weekend.
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