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Ranking the 113th U.S. Open field: Nos. 1-20

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ARDMORE, Pa. – Here at the 113th U.S. Open Championship, the big hitters are going to own an advantage, because they can leave driver in the bag on 6,996-yard Merion Golf Club.

On second thought, the advantage goes to the short, accurate hitters, since this isn’t a lengthy course and there will be a premium on getting the ball into the fairway.

No, wait. This tournament – like so many others – often turns into a putting contest, so the guy who rolls the rock best will triumph.

Phew.

If golfers can suffer from paralysis by analysis, can the rest of us suffer from paralysis by overanalysis before major championships?

The fact is, the best golf courses tend to produce eclectic leaderboards rather than playing to only one type of player – and this golf course is undoubtedly one of the best. Of course, that makes predicting a final order of finish even tougher. But let’s try it anyway.

1. Matt Kuchar

On a collision course to win the year’s second major, the game’s most consistent player went and did something dumb a few weeks ago: He won The Memorial Tournament. Picking him now is akin to filling out your NCAA bracket sheet with a team that just rolled through its conference tourney, but Kuchar has the stuff to go back-to-back.

2. Graeme McDowell

It takes patience to contend at a U.S. Open and McDowell has proven he’s amongst the field leaders in that category. He has a win, a share of second and a T-14 in this event over the past three years. On the heels of a victory at Harbour Town two months ago, it’s hard to imagine McDowell not finding himself in contention again this week.

3. Adam Scott

Poor Adam. Fresh off his first career major victory at the Masters two months ago, he arrived on site at Merion and the first question asked of him was whether he’ll feel like a third wheel in a grouping with Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy. With seven finishes of 15th or better in his last nine major starts, Scott shouldn’t be considered a third wheel in any group.

4. Martin Laird

There are no discernible U.S. Open numbers which should suggest Laird will contend this week, but he’s a solid ball-striker who isn’t unfamiliar with slogging through the mud. Truth is, he evokes memories of Graeme McDowell before his 2010 title – an international player who knows how to win and is ready to make the next step.

5. Phil Mickelson

We’ve all heard the analysis: You’ve got to hit it straight at Merion. You can’t be in the rough at Merion. Well, there’s one thing getting overlooked: You’ve got to be a creative shotmaker. No player of this generation is more creative than Mickelson, although placing him in this spot could be bad karma. He already owns five career U.S. Open runner-up results.

6. Jason Dufner

If Retief Goosen had the proper mindset to win a few U.S. Open titles, then Dufner certainly qualifies, as well. But forget the mental part of the game – he’s also amongst the best ball-strikers around, at 29th on the PGA Tour in driving accuracy and 31st in greens in regulation. Flew under the radar with a fourth place finish last year.

7. Tiger Woods

This Sunday will mark the five-year anniversary of Woods’ last major championship victory. Perhaps the only thing more remarkable than that fact is that at age 37, he still has a chance to overtake Jack Nicklaus someday. Some pundits contend that leaving the driver in the bag will suit him well this week, but it’s not the same advantage that it was a decade ago.

8. Matteo Manassero

It says more about our desensitization to success at a young age that Manassero isn’t a bigger story right now than it says about the 20-year-old’s success itself. He already owns four professional victories, including the BMW PGA Championship just a few weeks ago. Known as a tremendous wedge player, this could be a perfect venue for him.

9. Brandt Snedeker

His recent results haven’t been as awe-inspiring as those of the season’s first two months, but Snedeker still sounds confident in his game. Perhaps nobody in the field is cursing the weather more than him, though, because on a fast, firm golf course with speedy greens, he just might be the man to beat. As it stands, he’ll still be one of those men.

10. Kevin Streelman

Tough. Gritty. Determined. Those are words that often describe U.S. Open contenders and words that also describe Streelman, who claimed his first career PGA Tour title at the Tampa Bay Championship earlier this year. He may not be the most talented player in the field, but he can grind out pars and throw in a few birdies, too.

11. Jason Day

The last time a U.S. Open was played on a waterlogged course, he finished in a share of second place.

12. Steve Stricker

Now a part-time player, but still a threat here, with top-20 finishes in each of his last two U.S. Open starts.

13. Rory McIlroy

This just in: His “awful” season to date has included four top-10s in 11 starts. Not so awful after all, is it?

14. Luke Donald

It goes to show how consistent he’s been the last few years that the slight bit of inconsistency is seen as a major issue.

15. Rickie Fowler

Merion will require shot-making skills and Fowler is one of the better shot-shapers left on the PGA Tour.

16. Ian Poulter

One of the game’s more confident players gained an extra dose of confidence with a few solid rounds in Memphis last week.

17. Francesco Molinari

Hey, it’s the City of Brotherly Love – and his brother Edoardo won the U.S. Amateur here at Merion back in 2005.

18. Jim Furyk

Still has some unfinished business left from last year’s poor finish – and a few other ones, too.

19. Carl Pettersson

Root for him – if only to hear the conversation between the anchorer and the USGA’s Mike Davis during the trophy ceremony.

20. Justin Rose

On a course where competitors may be hitting wedge into as many as half of the greens, nobody has been better with a wedge this year.