Tiger Woods is coming off a less than stellar performance in his last start to say the least, but since he's already won four times on the PGA Tour in 2013, he will be the favorite when he begins the U.S. Open on Thursday.
There are few fiercer competitors in sports history than Woods, and although he may not impose his will as effectively as he used to, his season thus far has been spectacular for the most part.
A lot of attention will be paid when the top-ranked Woods tees off with the second-ranked player in the world, Rory McIlroy, and No. 3 Adam Scott. ESPN's Justin Ray suggests that Woods playing alongside McIlroy gives him an advantage from the start:
On the surface, Woods' tie for 65th at the Memorial Tournament in his most recent outing is cause for serious concern. However, the overriding issue that had plagued him was driving accuracy. That wasn't the case at Muirfield Village.
Ardmore, Pennsylvania's Merion Golf Club, the site of the 113th U.S. Open, demands proper placement off the tee, for penal, thick rough lurks not far off the fairway.
Woods, who was well outside the top 100 in driving accuracy entering the Memorial, wound up finding 82.14 percent of fairways in regulation—tied for fifth in the field according to CBS Sports. The problem was on the greens, which was surprising considering he had led the Tour in strokes gained putting before the debacle in Dublin.
The weather is expected to be rather volatile, because as Weather.com reports, a flood warning has been issued in the Ardmore area from 10 a.m. on Thursday until 6 a.m. on Friday.
With the pristine course having already been bombarded by precipitation, it puts the tournament in a precarious position. In any event, the course should be damp, which will allow players to attack the shorter holes at the 6,996-yard layout more effectively.
On the other hand, shorter hitters who rely on precision will be at a significant disadvantage on the longer holes. Woods possesses plenty of distance, and thus will have an additional leg up on the competition. As if he needs one.
After all, the last major Woods did win was basically on one leg, which he dragged up and down the fairways at Torrey Pines for an additional 19 holes to defeat Rocco Mediate in a playoff at the 2008 U.S. Open.
There is so much room for trouble, and all of Woods' struggles in the Memorial can't be discounted, but neither can his body of work thus far in 2013.
It's difficult to project what kind of scores will be put up, but it's safe to say Merion will be a demanding test regardless of how significant a role Mother Nature plays.
With three par-threes numbering 230-plus yards and two par-fours—including the finishing 18th hole—at over 500 yards, there is room for disaster all over, particularly in the last five holes.
As mentioned before, though, birdie opportunities are abound. NBC golf expert Johnny Miller went on ESPN's Pardon the Interruption on Wednesday and noted that there are eight holes where wedge will be in most players' hands for approach shots.
That should lead to Woods capitalizing several times, but if his putting isn't quite spot-on, there is the potential for several dropped shots.
Woods will have an up-and-down day, yet the world No. 1 should ultimately find himself squarely in the hunt in the early going.
Prediction: Five birdies, two bogeys, one double bogey and a round of one-under 69.
Note: All statistics and tournament history are courtesy of PGATour.com.