Commentary

Americans take backseat at Open

Originally Published: July 17, 2010
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland -- Is there an American in the house?

I'm just asking because you can't swing a plate of haggis without hitting a South African, a Brit, a German, a Swede or a Spaniard on the sweet spot of the Open Championship leaderboard. It's the only tournament that needs subtitles.

Meanwhile, the Americans are being held in a St. Andrews safe house, apparently too busy to break free from the magnetic pull of possible Open irrelevancy. They're this close to finding themselves on the side of a milk carton.

[+] EnlargeDustin Johnson
Andrew Redington/Getty ImagesDustin Johnson was the only American within 9 shots of leader Louis Oosthuizen after 54 holes.

A year ago it was an all-USA Open Championship playoff between Stewart Cink and gap-toothed codger Tom Watson. Cink won the Claret Jug -- his shirt and cap were later donated to the Fluorescent Green Bug Light Hall of Fame.

This year, nothing. The 60-year-old Watson, who missed the cut, was last seen kissing the Swilcan Bridge and waving farewell to the Old Course. Cink is still here, and he can pull off the Open two-peat if he shoots, oh, a 58 in Sunday's final round.

Tiger Woods? My pre-tournament pick is 12 strokes behind leader Louis Oosthuizen. In other words, Woods' winless streak still has a strong heartbeat. He hasn't won a major since June 2008 and hasn't won a tournament in 2010, much less finish in the top three.

Phil Mickelson? He was microwaved the minute he let the St. Andrews wind and rain mess with his mind.

Steve Stricker? No factor.

Jim Furyk? Trunk slamming after rounds of 77-73.

The Americans' showing through the first three days of this Open is uglier than gorse. They're trying, but they're just not putting up enough red numbers or, in some cases, any red numbers.

Anyway, Oosthuizen is South African. Paul Casey, in second place, is English. Martin Kaymer, in third, is German. Sweden's Henrik Stenson and Spain's Alejandro Canizares are tied for fourth.

What does it all mean? It means the Americans are making the wrong kind of history.

For the first time in, gulp, 41 years, the final round of the Open Championship will begin without an American player in the top five. That's hard to do even if you're phoning it in.

"I haven't even looked," Woods said when asked about the number of Europeans contending for the lead. "We all know them as just players."

Well, England's Ian Poulter knows them as players and flag logos. Poulter popped off to The Guardian newspaper earlier this week. His scorched-fairway policy was spiced with digs at U.S. players, and by the looks of it, he was absolutely right.

"I haven't spoken to the Americans lately, but they're not going to be happy, are they?" Poulter said. "If you look at the winners over the last few weeks, four out of five have been European -- and Justin [Rose, who's English] should have won the other one. Guys are coming over and winning week in, week out. … The impact, if there is any, is going to be positive for the European guys and the English guys heading into the Open."

Added Poulter: "The Americans have a gap, and that gap is being filled by European guys right now, guys who are in their late 20s, early 30s, and who are doing the job right now."

There isn't an American within eight strokes of Oosthuizen. Dustin Johnson, last seen imploding during the final round of the U.S. Open, is nine shots behind. Nick Watney, Sean O'Hair and Ricky Barnes are 10 back.

"I'm in a spot where I have a chance," Johnson said.

No, he isn't. First of all, he needs Oosthuizen to suffer the same kind of meltdown Johnson himself suffered at Pebble Beach. Sure, it could happen, but not even the likes of Mickelson is picking against him.

"I've played with Louis," Mickelson said. "He is a good ball striker. He can really play. It wouldn't surprise me one bit if he were to play a good solid week and win."

OK, let's say Oosthuizen gets vaporized by the pressure. Johnson still needs Casey to be kidnapped, Kaymer to break an ankle, Stenson to disrobe and be disqualified, Canizares to withdraw and Westwood to forget his clubs. And after all that, Johnson still needs to shoot a red number.

Let's face it: An American isn't winning this thing. Johnson, Watney, O'Hair and Barnes don't have a majors victory between them. They have a combined eight PGA Tour wins. The chances of an Al Michaels are slimmer than a shoelace.

Woods, even in his post-scandal state, is still the best player in the world. He hasn't won for a while, but he will. Four of the top five players in the World Ranking (Woods, Mickelson, Stricker and Furyk) are American.

But then the rankings carnage begins. Of the top 21 players in the world, only six are from the States. So not only is the U.S. going to go Jug-less on Sunday, it might go Ryder Cup-less in September, too.

Maybe there will be a "Do-you-believe-in-miracles?" moment in the final round, but I'm not counting on it. Too many strokes to make up, too few Americans to do it.

Prepare for a Yanks-free Sunday.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn.com. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here.

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