As the Tour's most consistent player, with 25 top 10s since the start of 2011, MATT KUCHAR is a modern-day Tom Kite, the 1992 Open champ. Like Kite, Kooch excels with the wedge and the putter, two especially crucial clubs at Merion. And he's hot, coming off his Memorial win two weeks ago, after which Jack Nicklaus shared the secret of major-championship preparation: Go to a major venue a week early to get so comfortable that you think of the event as "just another tournament." Asked for his Open preparation plan, the 34-year-old Kuchar said eagerly, "I'll be going to Merion!" Enough said.
—Gary Van Sickle
You could see BUBBA WATSON missing the cut at Merion—but it's more fun to imagine him winning. He could manhandle Merion in unconventional ways, just as John Daly did when he won at St. Andrews in 1995. Watson, a lefty, hits towering shots, and he can slice and hook on command. High, spinning shots suit Merion, and Watson's fade will stop faster than a righty's draw. He'll reach the first of the two par-5s; he'll hit short clubs into the monster par-4s, like number 18; and he can drive three of the par-4s if he decides to play Bubba Golf. Plus, don't you love the idea of Bubba's following in Ben Hogan's footprints at Merion?
TIGER WOODS is going to win. He's again the best player in the world by a comfortable margin, and Merion is the right ballpark at the right time. Woods, 37, is playing an effective brand of small ball. That's how he tamed TPC Sawgrass a month ago. With his laserlike five-woods off the tee, Tiger should be able to singe tight and testy Merion. If he's in the fairway, who's going to outplay him from 200 yards in? Yeah, Woods has appeared to want it too much at the majors lately, leading to disappointing weekends, but he's healthy, in love and about to re-up with Nike. Only one thing is missing, and he'll find it at Merion.
AL TIELEMANS/SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (KUCHAR)
AL TIELEMANS/SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (WATSON)
ROBERT BECK/SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (WOODS)