The 2013 U.S. Open is set to tee off early Thursday, and the world's biggest golf stars are gearing up for a major that is anyone's for the taking.
While you can't count out any of these players as some of the biggest favorites heading into action at Merion Golf Club near Philadelphia, each comes in with an intriguing recent storyline that deals with a slew of different issues.
Some of these players are executing some of the best golf of their careers, while others are going through rough patches and are looking for a huge major victory to get them back on track.
But since each golfer is coming in with a different slate, and the conditions at Merion are set to be less than ideal, we can be sure sure to expect different performances from each star on Day 1 at the U.S. Open.
Let's take a look at how each superstar will fare on Thursday.
Tiger Woods comes into Merion facing a lot of questions about his recent play at the Memorial Tournament, where he posted one of the worst performances of his professional career. But there's no doubting that Tiger has erased all of that from his memory and is solely focused on ending his five-year major drought.
We never really see Tiger do anything on Day 1 that is foretelling of how he'll perform over the weekend, so his round on Thursday likely won't make too many headlines. But you can still bet that threesome of Woods, Rory McIlroy and Adam Scott will be watched ad nauseam.
Woods hasn't had incredible success at Merion like he has at so many other iconic golf courses, but you can bet that this course and this tournament have been circled on his calendar for a long, long time.
To see anything other than Tiger's best on Thursday would be a surprise.
Prediction: Two-under par (68)
It has been an unusual year for Rory McIlroy, but that seems to be the case every year.
You can never consider McIlroy as anything other than one of the three favorites for each of the four majors, but he's still almost guaranteed to finish outside of the top 50 if he doesn't win the whole thing.
McIlroy's inconsistent play continued at the Memorial, where he finished tied for 57th with a six-over par score of 294. But his recent performance at The Players was promising, as he finished tied for eighth.
Of course, he has had success at the U.S. Open, winning the first major of his career there in 2011.
I expect McIlroy to start showing more consistency with his play—starting now.
Prediction: Four-under par (66)
Phil Mickelson has a struggling golf game to work on more than anything, but he'll also be facing some other distractions heading into his opening round.
CBS Sports reported that Mickelson skipped his practice rounds in order to attend his daughter's eighth-grade graduation—a ceremony which won't end until early Wednesday evening. Of course, he tees off at 7:11 a.m. ET—that's 4:11 a.m. in California, where the graduation takes place.
While the rest of the field has been at Merion all week taking in the course and getting plenty of rest, Lefty will be taking a red-eye flight just to make his tee-time. While it's commendable that he put his family first, it may put his game at a disadvantage.
Lefty is accustomed to starting off slow in majors, however, and getting himself back into contention with a strong Friday and Saturday performance. The same can be expected of Mickelson this time around—especially with the early distractions.
Prediction: Three-over par (73)
Too often we see golfers have small slumps shortly after winning their first major; but Adam Scott isn't your average major-winner.
Scott showed a lot of confidence when talking to USA Today earlier this week as he prepared at Merion:
I can't lie to you. I do feel a lot better coming here, even discussing that kind of thing (winning majors). It's a good feeling to come here to know that I've achieved that. I've got my first major, and my sights are definitely set on trying to win more.
After coming so close to winning a major on multiple occasions, Scott's Masters victory earlier this year was a long time coming. And because he has been preparing for this situation for years and has one under his belt, he'll be gunning for number two.
Prediction: Even par (70)