By Mark Lamport-Stokes
ARDMORE, Pennsylvania (Reuters) - Matt Kuchar has an extra spring in his step for this week's U.S. Open, having been installed among the favorites for the year's second major after winning the elite Memorial Tournament 10 days ago.
Though Kuchar has yet to claim one of golf's four blue riband events, he has triumphed at every other level in the game and likes his chances heading into Thursday's opening round at Merion Golf Club.
"There are a few times a year you really hope to be playing excellent golf, this is one of them," the American world number four told reporters at a sun-drenched Merion on Wednesday. "It's nice to be coming off the win.
"That's a fantastic test of golf at Memorial and it tests everything there, driver through wedge. It was great to perform well, have that extra confidence coming in this week.
"If you're not clicking on all cylinders, a U.S. Open golf course is going to really show that and beat you up. I'm looking forward to playing this week and hoping the good performance continues."
Kuchar clinched the Jack Nicklaus-hosted Memorial Tournament in Dublin, Ohio by two shots to become the PGA Tour's second multiple winner this season after Tiger Woods.
Perhaps more significantly, it continued his steady upward path of success as he bids to land his first major title.
"I feel like in my golfing career I've made steps in the right direction," said the 34-year-old Kuchar, a six-times champion on the PGA Tour.
"I've won regular Tour events, won big Tour events, won the Players Championship, won a Barclays FedExCup event. I won a World Golf Championship. I feel like I've kind of stepped up in the ranks of winning against the best players in the world.
Kuchar won his first World Golf Championships title, widely regarded as just one rung down from the majors, at the Accenture Match Play Championship in February. That followed on from his triumph at last year's Players Championship, the unofficial "fifth major".
Ever humble, he does not embrace suggestions that he can now be bracketed among the best players in the modern game still waiting for a maiden grand slam title.
"There's a lot of us in that boat, and I don't know that I'm quite in that talk yet," Kuchar smiled.
"I know that a lot of people have been yelling out that they have got me in their pools and they're picking me this week, but we hear a lot of that talk every week.
"However, I feel like I'm on good form. I feel like I'm playing some good golf. I'm looking to continue to play good golf. I'm looking forward to competing and trying to put my name on this trophy."
Kuchar, whose tie for eighth at the Masters in April also gave him a major jolt of confidence, played a practice round at Merion on Tuesday afternoon and was surprised to see how well the course had drained after more than six inches of rain here since Friday.
"I was amazed ... how dry the course seemed to be," he said. "Really still got some run in the fairways. Greens were receptive, but still had nice speed on them for the amount of slope they have got.
"The rough is thick and nasty. If you're playing from the rough, you have no chance of scoring here."
Kuchar is scheduled to tee off in Thursday's opening round in the company of English world number five Justin Rose and sixth-ranked American Brandt Snedeker.
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Julian Linden)