US stars try to avoid record major golf drought
Bethesda: For only the second time in modern golf history, no American owns any of the four major titles.
And if no US player captures the 111th US Open that begins on Thursday at Congressional Country Club, the drought will be America`s longest ever.
The only other time that the Masters, US Open, British Open and PGA Championship crowns all belonged to non-US players came in 1994 when Spain`s Jose Maria Olazabal won the Masters, South African Ernie Els won the US Open and Zimbabwe`s Nick Price won the British and PGA titles.
That skid started after American Paul Azinger had won the 1993 PGA Championship and US veteran Ben Crenshaw won the 1995 Masters to end it.
So a fifth consecutive Major this week without a US victory would stretch the futility streak to unprecedented proportions.
"It just shows us Americans got to get going," said Gary Woodland, who only qualified thanks to a jump into this week`s world rankings top 50 at 40th.
"There`s a lot of young guys in America coming up and we`ve just got to keep doing what we`re doing, and we`ll be all right."
Not since Phil Mickelson`s victory at last year`s Masters for his third green jacket and fourth major triumph has an American lifted a major trophy.
Northern Ireland`s Graeme McDowell became only the second European since 1925 to win the US Open when he took last year`s title at Pebble Beach.
South African Louis Oosthuizen followed by winning the British Open and will join McDowell and US Amateur champion Peter Uihlein in a traditional US Open pairing on the first tee Thursday morning.
Germany`s Martin Kaymer won last year`s PGA Championship on his way to becoming World No. 1 and South African Charl Schwartzel won a nine-man duel on the back nine at Augusta National two months ago to win the Masters.
"America is big," Schwartzel said after his Masters triumph. "But the world is bigger."
All four reigning Major champions had not won a prior Major, part of a run that has seen first-time major winners in seven of the past eight events, the lone exception being Mickelson`s Masters triumph.
In fact, the past 10 majors have been won by 10 different players, and another wide open fight is expected over the lightning-fast greens, thick rough and narrow fairways at Congressional this week.
"Maybe 30, 40 players (have a chance to win)," Kaymer said. "It`s so open. It can be a young guy. It can be (Japan`s Ryo) Ishikawa. It can be Rory McIlroy or it can be David Toms. It`s very open. It`s tough to say but definitely it`s very open at the moment."
England`s Luke Donald is World No. 1 with countryman Lee Westwood second and both seking their first major title.
Westwood dubbed the course the favorite this week, saying if he was any good at predicting a winner he would be working for the oddsmakers, who like him and Westwood by a slender margin.
"Golf is in such a good position at the moment because it`s so volatile you can get a different winner every week," Westwood said. "It`s part of the challenge of the game at the moment."
"If I could pick out a favorite, I`d be working for Paddy Power or BetFred or something like that."
One major factor in loosening the US grip on majors has been the collapse of former World No. 1 Tiger Woods, unable to play this week due to left knee and Achilles tendon injuries.
Woods, a 14-time major champion chasing the all-time record of 18 majors won by Jack Nicklaus, has not won any tournament in 20 months, since the revelation of his secret sex life that led to his divorce last year from Elin Nordegren.
"Obviously Tiger, he hasn`t been up to his best form recently, the last two years. That`s why he probably didn`t win the last 12, 24 months," Kaymer said.
"For us Europeans obviously it`s fantastic, very exciting to see us up there. It`s exciting to have different champions. It`s great for golf in the world. Why it`s like this I have no idea."
Steve Stricker, ranked fourth, is the American number one for the first time in his career, just ahead of Mickelson, a five-time US Open runner-up who has yet to claim the trophy.
Another Americans in the top 20 include Matt Kuchar, Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson, Nick Watney, the absent Woods, Jim Furyk and Hunter Mahan, who likes his chances for a first major title.
"I`m right on track for the US Open," he said. "I`ve been pretty consistent this year. The game`s not far away from just bursting and just making a ton of birdies and getting some momentum of shooting low scores."
"I want to be very fresh mentally, physically and ready to go to battle, because the US Open is a battle and it is probably the longest four days of the year."