Saturday, July 16, 2011

Johnson, Fowler Playing For Old Glory And Their Own Glory

   In a golf sense, Northern Ireland is kicking the United States' collective rear end.

   Last year, Graeme McDowell won the U.S. Open. This year, Rory McIlroy did it. That makes it Ulstermen 2, Uncle Sam 0.

    But with 18 holes remaining in the Open Championship at Royal St. George's, Americans have a chance to win their first major championship since Phil Mickelson picked up his third green jacket 15 months ago at Augusta National.

   There are 10 Americans among the top 16 in the Open. That's the good news.

    The bad news is third-round leader Darren Clarke is from Northern Ireland, too. Same song. Different verse.

    But the U.S. has two of its best players -- Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler -- sitting right behind Clarke. We keep talking and hearing about how much promise they have. Now it's time for one of them to deliver.

    Johnson starts one back of Clarke and seems the most capable of doing something spectacular on Sunday given his length and his famliarity with final-round major championship pressure. This will be the third time in the last six majors that Johnson has played in the final pairing on Sunday.

   He's been fighting a sore throat this week but he's gradually feeling better. He's also stayed largely under the radar. Can he win?


   So can Fowler, who has seemed at home at St. George's. He played beautifully Saturday in the wind and rain. He hasn't won yet, which raises questions but Fowler seems like a big-moment player. Look at the Ryder Cup last year.

   It may not matter what either Johnson or Fowler does in the final round. Clarke may play better than either of them. So might Miguel Angel Jimenez, Thomas Bjorn or someone else.

    But if they're all we've been saying they are, one of them can prove it on Sunday.