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Tuesday, June 11, 2013
U.S. Open experts' picks


Each week of the season, our experts share their insights into which players fit the criteria for our four categories: Horse for the Course (a golfer who knows the track inside and out), Birdie Buster (a guy who could take it low this week), Super Sleeper (a player who could unexpectedly contend) and Winner.

This week's tournament: The U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa.

Horse for the Course

Farrell Evans, ESPN.com senior golf writer: The pros haven't played Merion since the 1981 Open. That week David Graham hit all 18 greens on Sunday to win the tournament on his way to a 7-under-par finish, then the second-lowest 72-hole score in the tournament's history. No one from that field is playing this week. It's a golf course that doesn't really favor a short or long player.

Bob Harig, ESPN.com senior golf writer: Webb Simpson. Few players have experience at Merion, which last hosted a U.S. Open in 1981. But the defending U.S. Open champ played here during the 2005 U.S. Amateur and loved it. Perhaps that is some good karma.

Ian O'Connor, ESPNNewYork.com columnist: Tiger Woods. Of course, one of the two greatest players of all time would be a horse for any course, but a layout that allows Tiger to take his driver out of play gives him a tremendous advantage over the lesser lights in the field.

Gene Wojciechowski, ESPN.com senior golf writer:  I'm with Luke Donald on this: The softer, wet conditions will bring more players into the tournament equation. But for what it's worth, Rickie Fowler was 4-0 here at Merion in the 2009 Walker Cup.


Birdie Buster

Evans: Scott Stallings. The 28-year-old former Tennessee Tech star has had top-5s in his past three starts, including a tie for second last week in Memphis. He is probably the hottest player in the field this week at Merion.

Harig: Phil Mickelson. Lefty had a solid weekend in Memphis, shooting three consecutive rounds in the 60s to finish second and give himself a big boost heading to Merion. Could this be the year? Phil has five runner-up finishes in the U.S. Open.

O'Connor: Phil Mickelson. Coming in on a roll from Memphis, where he punctuated three straight impressive rounds with a near hole-out from the fairway on Sunday. Mickelson won't be playing on much sleep early Thursday morning after the cross-country flight back from his daughter's eighth-grade graduation, but he's got a record five second-place finishes at the Open for a reason. When he gets it going, watch out.

Wojciechowski: This one is easy. Matt Kuchar's game is so hot he needs heat tiles to re-enter the Earth's atmosphere. He has the game, the disposition and the confidence to win a U.S. Open.


Super Sleeper

Evans: Sergio Garcia.  The Spaniard has four top-10s in 13 starts in the U.S. Open. He has the game to win at Merion, but he is under intense pressure this week after his controversial remarks last month about Tiger Woods.

Harig:  Zach Johnson. The 2007 Masters champion is coming off a poor Memorial and has had an up-and-down year. But Merion should be made for his solid wedge and putting game.

O'Connor: Kevin Streelman. He missed his last two cuts, but he finished second at the Players in May, third at the Heritage in April and first at Tampa in March. Streelman is the kind of steady grinder who can suddenly contend out of left field at a U.S. Open.

Wojciechowski: How about a Super, Super, Super Sleeper pick: club pro John Nieporte. He's 46, married, has four daughters and works for Donald Trump at Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach, Fla. I'd like him to win just to see if The Donald will give Nieporte a raise.


Winner

Evans:  Tiger Woods. The 14-time major champion has the finesse and experience to win his fourth U.S. Open. With four wins already in 2013, he's brimming with confidence over his golf swing and short game. Mainly, he trusts his ability to win. And that's the most important thing in the ups and downs that come with a major championship.

Harig: Graeme McDowell. The 2010 U.S. Open champion has two victories since the Masters – one on the PGA Tour, one in Europe – and Merion is seemingly made for him. McDowell finished second to Simpson last year.

O'Connor: Tiger Woods. It's time for Tiger to end his five-year major championship drought and claim No. 15. He's already won four times this year, and this course will allow him to hit those favored stingers off the tee. When it's over nobody will be asking anymore if Tiger is all the way back, and if he can break Jack Nicklaus' record of 18. Woods will join Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan and Lee Trevino as iconic USGA winners at Merion.

Wojciechowski: It isn't very creative, but I'll go with the chalk pick: Tiger Woods. One of these days he's going to win his 15th major. I know he didn't play well at Memorial. I also know I don't care.