Woods needs a little American help in chasing Open titles

Updated: June 18, 2007, 2:29 PM ET
By Mark Kreidler | Special to ESPN.com

The beauty of playing golf along the coast is that you can see so far into the distance. For example:

Tiger Woods
Donald Miralle/Getty ImagesTiger Woods couldn't win a major from the final group for the second straight time.
    (1) The 2008 U.S. Open is to be held at the Torrey Pines course in La Jolla, Calif.;
    (2) Tiger Woods loves Torrey Pines; and
    (3) We're saved! Or so they say.

And let's be honest about the thinking here. The thinking is that, if an American is going to defend the local honor in the U.S. Open these days, it's pretty much Tiger or bust. That's both the good news, and the problem.

Former Open champion Jim Furyk's great surge and subsequent recession on Sunday again highlighted the terms of the deal that the broad American golf public has struck with Woods. It is a pact of constant expectation, which Woods generally welcomes, with a rider clause of huge letdown if Tiger doesn't win, which probably doesn't come close to the disappointment Woods himself feels when he comes up short.

Woods, in his last four majors, has gone 1-1-2-2, which he summed up thusly: "Not terrible, but could have been a little bit better." OK, fine. That's the level.

But where are the other guys?

Does it always have to be Woods? If golfers from the Southern Hemisphere win four consecutive U.S. Opens -- Argentina's Angel Cabrera was the latest -- is that really on Tiger? Anybody ready for another American to step up?

Furyk's run marked the second straight U.S. Open at which he had a clear shot at another championship and fell just a sliver short. Nothing criminal about it, of course -- the smart thinking says he'll get there again, and he's too good not to add to his majors total at some point. But with six Americans among the top nine finishers last weekend at Oakmont -- and that doesn't count Phil Mickelson, who missed the cut -- it seems strange to so constantly have to revert to the default Tiger setting in the end.

For that matter, this whole chemical dependence on Woods can't be good for the golfing soul. (Ryder Cup, anyone?) The last four U.S. Opens have gone to players from Argentina, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Have we really hit the wall on this thing to the point that only Tiger Woods can be brought out to get the Americans to the other side?

Woods' recent finishes in the majors don't exactly suggest he's on the downside. I'll go out on a limb and predict he's got some decent golf left in him. But we'd all love to think there is enough depth and quality among the Americans to bring the U.S. Open championship back to the host country -- and that's with all due respect to an international field that has seldom looked better.

Names? Well, despite a forgettable showing at Oakmont, maybe someone like Iowa's Zach Johnson, the Masters champ, who appears to have the discipline and conservative streak to handle the layouts at the majors. (Great Johnson story from the weekend: He got irritated in the final round when, on the 18th, a baby's cry caused him some distraction. He wound up with a bogey there, his third on the 18th in four days, but had to bite his tongue afterward. It was his 6-month-old son who was doing the crying.)

Maybe Furyk gets there again, and maybe soon. It'd be great to think Mickelson might have a U.S. Open in him. The Americans among the top nine at Oakmont included Woods, Furyk, Bubba Watson, David Toms, Scott Verplank and Jerry Kelly.

What these golfers share, in addition to great talent and work ethic, is a public respect for Woods that at times seems to border on awe. Maybe that's merely good PR, golfers saying the right things about Woods while secretly plotting to take him down. I sure hope so. There can't be a more welcome sight on the American side right now than a bunch of players who can't wait to knock Woods off the mountain.

There is no other Tiger Woods on the planet; there can't be. Woods is both the athlete and the phenomenon unto himself. For that matter, it's almost always a great day for a golf fan when Woods enters the final round of a major with a chance to win. But it's time to stop making him the only hope.

Furyk could've won that thing on Sunday. It would have been doubly refreshing if it simply meant Tiger didn't have to. Then again, we'll always have Torrey Pines. Or so they say.

Mark Kreidler's book "Four Days to Glory: Wrestling With the Soul of the American Heartland", published by HarperCollins, is in its third printing. A regular contributor to ESPN.com, Kreidler can be reached at mark@markkreidler.com.