The 2013 U.S. Open has finally arrived, and golf's second major at Merion Golf Club promises to be a grueling test despite the softer conditions brought on by unwelcome, severe weather.
Beginning on Thursday, June 13, Tiger Woods will embark on seeking his 15th major title after managing just a tie for 65th in his last tournament at the Memorial two weekends ago. Nevertheless, the world's top-ranked player has won four times this season and can't be counted out.
On the other hand, Rory McIlroy hasn't won yet this season and continues to be somewhat inconsistent so it's hard to count McIlroy as a favorite at this point.
The fact that Woods is paired with McIlroy for the first two rounds also helps McIlroy's cause, according to ESPN's Justin Ray:
Woods and several of his peers stand out as among those golfers whose game fits Merion's test of extraordinary golf in Ardmore, Pa.
Let's take a look at the schedule for the first day of play, followed by predictions for some of the top players in the field and a projection of who will capture the trophy in the 113th edition of this prestigious championship.
Note: Statistics are courtesy of PGATour.com.
When: Thursday, June 13
Where: Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa.
Tee Times: First group is off at 7 a.m. ET. For a complete list of tee times for Rounds 1 and 2, visit USOpen.com.
Round 1 TV Schedule
|9 a.m. - 3 p.m.||ESPN|
|3 p.m. - 5 p.m.||NBC|
|5 p.m. - 7 p.m.||ESPN|
Live Stream Information
|Start Time (ET)||Event||Service(s)|
|7:11 a.m. ET||Marquee Group 1||USOpen.com|
|9 a.m.||Live Holes 11 & 18||WatchESPN|
|9 a.m.||Round 1 Coverage - Part 1||WatchESPN (restrictions apply)|
|9 a.m.||Marquee Group||WatchESPN|
|1:14 p.m.||Marquee Group 2||USOpen.com|
|3 p.m.||Round 1 Coverage||NBC Sports Live Extra|
|5 p.m.||Round 1 Coverage - Part 2||WatchESPN (restrictions apply)|
A massive difference in Woods' game this season as opposed to recent years is his distance control with shorter irons and wedges.
For that reason, along with many others, he has to be considered the one to beat at this year's U.S. Open—especially since Woods has won four times already in just eight starts on the PGA Tour in 2013.
The discombobulation that Woods experienced at the Memorial as defending champion was likely a mere aberration. Putts simply weren't falling for him and his focus seemed to be lacking with some of the careless shots he played.
Now that he's had a week off to iron out the kinks and prepare for a major, it's difficult to tell how he'll fare. However, based on his history, it wouldn't be wise to count him out.
It has been approximately five years since Woods' last major triumph at the 2008 U.S. Open, but that drought could have easily been snapped at The Masters if not for a fateful approach that caromed off the pin and into the water, leading to a triple bogey.
What was most encouraging about Woods' performance at Muirfield Village is how well he hit fairways, which will be paramount at Merion. If he keeps that up and gets his putter back on track, he'll be extremely tough to beat.
Playing alongside Ryder Cup buddy Keegan Bradley for the first 36 holes should help Mickelson continue the momentum he generated last week.
Known for competing the week before majors with the hope to get the juices flowing, Mickelson finished runner-up at the FedEx St. Jude Classic. "Phil the Thrill" typically lives up to his nickname and left galleries in a frenzy after this approach to cap off his week:
Mickelson has come painfully close to winning this major, finishing in second place five previous times. With his window to win consistently closing, now would be an ideal time to get it done.
Tim Rosaforte noted on Golf Channel's pre-tournament coverage that Mickelson won't be carrying a driver this week, feeling he can still hit wedges to the shorter holes and manage the extremely long ones without the big stick:
Throwing in a 64-degree wedge is another sage tactical move. Whereas most lob wedges are 60 degrees, Lefty is wisely adding versatility to his already impressive short-game arsenal.
Given his form in Memphis and those strategic adjustments, it appears Mickelson is confident in his game and should be a factor on Sunday.
Winning at the Memorial is always special since the tournament is hosted by the legendary Jack Nicklaus. Kuchar did just that following a second-place effort at the Colonial, as Kuchar is arguably the hottest golfer on the planet at the moment.
With his extremely repeatable one-plane swing and minimal mistakes, the fourth-ranked player in the world frequently finds himself hovering around the top 10.
All the opportunities Kuchar has created for himself are beginning to translate into victories, with his win in Dublin his second of the season. Kuchar has the type of game to thrive at Merion—as long as his putter treats him well.
Wet conditions usually mean lower scores, but it could actually hurt Kuchar this weekend. Since he isn't the longest hitter, the intimidation of Merion's lengthy holes may give him significant problems.
Kuchar is swinging it too well to be dismissed, though. It wouldn't be surprising to see him in the top-five at week's end.
Five of 13 PGATour.com experts chose McDowell as their projected champion. Arguing against them is a tough task.
McDowell drives the ball as accurately as anyone, and did win the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, which wasn't as long as many of the other venues. Merion is similar in that regard, though the final five holes are rather brutal.
The golfer from Northern Ireland played in the final group last year too. He has showcased clutch putting ability and a knack for grinding out pars better than nearly anyone in the game.
In his most recent win at the RBC Heritage back in April, McDowell ironically got a bit of payback in defeating Webb Simpson, the defending U.S. Open champion, in a playoff.
It has been a month since McDowell last teed it up on the PGA Tour, where he missed the cut at The Players Championship. He then missed the cut at the BMW PGA Championship on the European Tour.
However, there has been plenty of time for McDowell to prepare, and the bigger the stage, the better he seems to play.
Predicting a Winner: Justin Rose
It seems like the time is right for Rose to finally lift a major championship trophy. Considering how mechanically sound his swing is and the level of talent he possesses, it's incredible that he hasn't won one yet.
Merion is a course that accentuates Rose's strengths immensely. Rose is seventh in scrambling on the Tour this season in addition to ranking 17th in driving accuracy and among the best in reaching greens in regulation percentage.
The club that continually plagues him is the putter, but when he tied for eighth at the Memorial in his last tourney, he showed improvement with a new flatstick in the bag, which he added at The Players..
A positive recent result and an idle week to work out his issues and suit himself better to his custom putter should translate into a strong showing at the U.S. Open.
Fairways and greens will be the name of the game, and as long as Rose holes a few key putts along the way, he should wind up as the winner.