Matt Kuchar just won The Players Championship, where he beat a stellar field. The U.S. Open at the Olympic Club, toughened to the extreme by the USGA, will be a greater physical and mental endurance test.
Kuchar can grind with the best of them. He ranks 10th in greens in regulation and 25th in driving accuracy on the PGA Tour. Both are essential to win this U.S. Open.
Don't be deceived by his engaging smile and personable nature. When he's on the course, Kuchar is a major league competitor. He also has a big league game with the tour's No. 1 scoring average (69.8).
Steve Stricker will win the U.S. Open this week because San Francisco's Olympic Club is a fastidious course, and Stricker is a fastidious player. Also, he is due.
Think of his victory as a mirror image to Darren Clarke's win in last year's British Open. Clarke was due, deserved one and got it, bouncing 2-irons through traps and onto greens. Stricker is a very good player who is playing his 17th U.S. Open.
His game doesn't revolve around big-bomb drives, and the emphasis at Olympic is on placing those drives properly, not hitting them out of sight. Also, U.S. Opens are won by great putting, and Stricker certainly is among the best at that.
Phil Mickelson has finished second in the U.S. Open five times. Maybe it's just a matter of time, and that time is now.
The Olympic Club is a shot-maker's course. That's Mickelson. Hitting straight shots bores him. He also admitted he gets "mentally lethargic" on Thursdays and Fridays of PGA Tour events.
That will not be the case here, in part because Mickelson will be paired with Bubba Watson and, more importantly, Tiger Woods. "He gets the best out of me," Lefty said. "When it's time to tee off Thursday, I'll be ready."
I'm crossing off the usual suspects. Tiger Woods has yet to show one win is the springboard to another. Phil Mickelson seems to attract the ill-timed mistake. Bubba Watson won't keep it in the fairway.
No U.S. Open winner goes back-to-back (Rory McIlroy) or won the week before (Dustin Johnson). Luke Donald has a lousy Open record. Lee Westwood is allergic to clutch putts in a major.
Justin Rose, meanwhile, has quietly put together a solid season. The English pro finds fairways (19th on the PGA Tour), ranks No. 3 in hitting the green in regulation and No. 6 in saving par when he doesn't. He won in March at Doral and has six top-10 finishes since then. It's Rosey's time.