Only one of these guys will be smiling at the end of the weekend at Merion.
Golf's second major is the toughest test on the calendar for the world's best golfers.
The 2013 U.S. Open, held at Merion Golf Club's East Course, offers a unique set of challenges this year. There's a fine line between brilliant and embarrassing when playing this course.
With torrential rain dumping more than six-and-a-half inches of water onto the course since last Friday (h/t Philly.com) and more to come (via Weather.com), the USGA's vision of a dried-out course with rock-hard greens has evolved into something quite different.
Players who can hit fairways and greens on a regular basis will thrive. The greens will be incredibly receptive, and guys who get hot will have an opportunity to go really low.
Speaking of fairways, the USGA has narrowed the fairways considerably. Golfers who struggle to hit fairways on a regular basis will be in trouble in the deep rough, which is also extremely irregular and difficult to escape.
The greens, while receptive, are also tiny. Mishits on the wrong side of the hole will penalize players severely.
With all this in mind, let's take a look at a few of the players who will thrive and suffer this weekend at the 2013 U.S. Open.
Winner: Tiger Woods
Woods went into the 2013 Players Championship with a history of playing poorly at TPC Sawgrass. The narrow fairways and small greens had given him trouble in the years after he won the event back in 2001.
What's more likely to happen?
Tiger was able to conquer Sawgrass by using his driver as little as possible. He ended the week as the No. 19-ranked player in the field in terms of fairways in regulation, hitting fairways nearly 68 percent of the time.
Combined with his excellent ball-striking and putting, Woods is deadly when hitting fairways. He's made a conscious effort this season to sacrifice distance for accuracy, and it's paid off with four wins in eight events.
Without a doubt, Woods will utilize a similar strategy at Merion this week.
Without a doubt, Woods will be in contention on Sunday at Merion's East Course.
Loser: Phil Mickelson
Mickelson has always been a grip-it-and-rip-it golfer who throws caution to the wind in favor of taking an aggressive approach.
Will Mickelson break from tradition and hit enough fairways to perform well at Merion?
When his game is firing on all cylinders, Mickelson has the capability to shoot incredibly low numbers, as he showed in the first round of the Waste Management Phoenix Open when he posted a 60.
Unfortunately, the East Course spells big trouble for Mickelson.
He's incredibly inconsistent off the tee, hitting fairways just 53.83 percent of the time (No. 160 on the PGA Tour).
Even in his impressive second-place finish at the FedEx St. Jude Classic, Mickelson hit the fairway just 55.36 percent of the time. Percentages like that at Merion will lead to some big numbers, and Mickelson will be lucky to make the cut on Friday.
Winner: Matt Kuchar
All this talk about fairways and greens means big things for Kuchar.
In his final round at Memorial, Kuchar was nearly flawless from tee to green, as noted by Plane Truth Golf:
Kuchar wins the Memorial for his second win of 2013. 13/14 fairways & 16/18 greens. Hit 3 of 4 par 5's in 2. #clinic— Plane Truth Golf (@PlaneTruthGolf) June 2, 2013
Furthermore, Kuchar is the hottest golfer on tour right now, having finished in second place at the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial before he won the Memorial.
His swing is really in a groove right now, and combined with his always-stellar putting, Kuchar is ready to make a huge statement at Merion this weekend.
Loser: Rory McIlroy
As hot as Kuchar has been the past few weeks, McIlroy has been ice cold, posting a missed cut at the BMW Championship and a 57th-place finish at the Memorial.
McIlroy will ____ this weekend.
Even more alarming that his performances the past couple of tournaments is the fact that McIlroy struggles off the tee and can't seem to get the ball into the hole once he's on the green.
The Northern Irishman has hit the fairway just 58.87 percent of the time this season (No 106 on tour) and ranks No. 123 in the "strokes gained-putting" stat, averaging negative-.158.
Missing fairways while also putting poorly at Merion will translate to an early exit.
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