Matt Kuchar the Hottest Name in Golf Heading into U.S. Open

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COMMENTARY | Brace yourselves, golf fans, the "KOOOOCH" is coming. At the Memorial this past weekend, held at Muirfield Village, these were the lone constants all four days: Matt Kuchar, his ubiquitous grin, and the affectionate bellow from the crowd.

Kuchar, who vaulted to No. 4 in the world -- the highest ranking of his career -- following his two-stroke victory over Kevin Chappell, may not technically be considered the No. 1 golfer in the world, as the rest of the Tour are distant dots in the rearview behind Tiger Woods, but there's no question he is the hottest.

With the win, the sixth of his career, the former Georgia Tech All-American became the only other player on Tour not named Tiger to claim a multi-victory season; earned his 35th Top 10 since the onset of the 2010 season, more than any other player on Tour; safely continued his streak of 15 cuts out of 15 on the year; and he won his fourth tournament among a heavyweight, first-class field -- all with the U.S. Open looming perfectly a week away.

"Winning tournaments breeds more winning tournaments. Anytime you can get comfortable playing in that final group, finishing off a tournament, winning a tournament is a huge amount of confidence," Kuchar said after claiming his victory at Muirfield. "I think last week was helpful playing in the last group at Colonial. I played some good, steady golf, not quite good enough. But having that opportunity again the very next week, I felt good out there. I knew my game was in good shape and was a lot more comfortable in the situation.

"Heading into Merion, I'll have a lot of confidence. It's a course I've not seen before, so I'll have to do some learning. But from what I understand you've got to drive it well, as you do in a U.S. Open, and I feel like I've been really driving the ball well. I'm looking forward to my chances there at Merion."

Naturally, much of the attention went to Tiger and McIlroy, the No. 1 and No. 2 players in the world, respectively, who played much as you would expect a Tour rookie would, not the two most formidable names in the game. But Kuchar continued being quintessential 'Kooch,' quietly topping another elite field, cashing another exorbitant check ($4,333,082 on the year), bounding up the rankings, and building a locomotive head of steam with the second major of the season approaching.

"Golf's a fickle thing," he said. "You can only control what you do. I can't control what the other guys do. I certainly feel like I'm ready to show up and play some really good golf. I'd love it if I could show up and play good enough golf to win a major. It's something that is up there, No. 1 on the list. I want to do it and feel like I'm ready to do it. But I can only control so much of that equation."

Being hot -- or cold -- directly before the Open hasn't necessarily been a consistent predictor of how the Open plays out. Webb Simpson won in 2012 after missing the previous two cuts in the preceding tournaments. Lucas Glover didn't crack the top 40 in his two starts prior to winning at Bethpage in 2009. But neither Simpson nor Glover -- heck, anyone on Tour -- has near the consistency of the 34-year-old Kuchar.

Despite not being the longest guy out there (108th on Tour in driving distance), Kuchar is fifth on Tour in par-5 birdies, which underscores his penchant for ball striking and putting, the most coveted combination at Merion given its unforgiving rough and relatively -- keyword, relatively -- short distance. Add in that only four players have a better adjusted scoring average this year and that nobody has cracked the Top 10 more times (six, a number matched by Keegan Bradley, Bill Haas, and Brandt Snedker), and Kuchar seems to be the only safe bet out there for Merion.

"Great golf breeds more great golf. Winning tournaments breeds more winning tournaments," Kuchar said as he was sitting next to Memorial host Jack Nicklaus in the interview room. "Anytime you can get comfortable playing in that final group, finishing off a tournament, winning a tournament is a huge amount of confidence."

Imagine what winning a first major tournament could do for that confidence.

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Travis Mewhirter has been working in the golf industry since 2007, when he was a bag room manager at Piney Branch Golf Club in Carroll County, Maryland, and has been involved, as a player, since 2004. Since then, he has worked at Hayfields Country Club, where the Constellation Energy Classic was formerly held, and has covered golf at the high school, college, and professional levels.

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