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There is hope for American golf

Kevin Currie, Golf Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - With all the talk about Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson's struggles, one would think the end is near for Americans being among the best golfers in the world.

Woods hasn't won in forever for a variety of reasons and Phil Mickelson is winless since capturing the Masters for the third time last April.

With most of the talk surrounding their struggles, and the hot play of the top four golfers in the world -- all of whom are Europeans -- you might get the impression that there is no hope among young American golfers.

And that couldn't be further from the truth.

Sure, there are only 15 Americans inside the top-50 golfers in the world, but among that group are two of the hotter golfers in the world.

Matt Kuchar and Nick Watney, who is now ranked 15th in the world after winning on Sunday, have combined for 12 starts this year on the PGA Tour. Kuchar has posted five top-10s in his seven starts, while Watney has finished inside the top-10 in all five of his starts.

The 32-year-old Kuchar has found his stride on the PGA Tour with one win in each of the last two seasons, as well as making his first Ryder Cup appearance in 2010.

Watney, who has been on tour full-time since 2005, has picked up three wins so far, with his first title in 2007 and his second in 2009. His victory Sunday at the WGC - Cadillac Championship was easily his biggest tour win.

Kuchar, who has risen to No. 9 in the world rankings, and Watney, who turns 30 at the end of April, are just two of the young Americans poised to be the heir apparent to Woods and Mickelson.

Twenty-six-year-old Dustin Johnson is in between Kuchar and Watney in the rankings. The big-hitting South Carolina native has already collected four PGA Tour wins, the most my anyone on the PGA under the age of 30. Yet, Johnson is probably more known for his failures than his victories.

Johnson coughed up the third-round lead at the U.S. Open last year, when he closed with an 82. Then, he was penalized for grounding his club in a bunker at the PGA Championship, which cost him a spot in the playoff.

Watney fired a 67 in the final round to overtake Johnson for the Cadillac title this past weekend. Johnson played well, but as he said afterwards, "I didn't make any putts. I hit the ball really well...and even rolled it pretty well, just nothing went in the hole for me all day."

Those are just three of the younger Americans poised to break out and jump into the mix as top-10 ranked golfers.

Here's a quick look at six other young Americans that will be around for a long time.

Bubba Watson, like Johnson, is one of the longest hitters on tour. I think Watson's short-game skills are underrated in comparison to his length. He picked up his first tour win last year and already has visited the winner's circle this year, as he titled at the Farmers Insurance Open.

To some, Rickie Fowler might be seen as a young, brash star in the making. To others, his world ranking of No. 29 doesn't equal his results. He has four top-20 finishes this season, following seven top-10s last year.

The 22-year-old former Oklahoma State Cowboy is still searching for his first victory, and despite his young age, some will view him as overrated until he picks up that first title.

Ryan Moore had one of the best amateur careers of anyone since Woods turned pro. The 28-year-old Moore won the U.S. Amateur and was a two-time Amateur Public Links champion.

That success hasn't carried over to the same degree on the PGA Tour. His lone tour win was at the 2009 Wyndham Championship. Moore can be a streaky player though, as he finished in the top-nine in the final two FedExCup playoff events last year. Earlier this year, he followed a fourth-place finish at the Northern Trust Open with an appearance in the quarterfinal of the WGC- Accenture Match Play event.

Bill Haas not only has success in his genes, but also on paper. He earned his first two PGA Tour titles last year and has three top-10s in his first three starts in 2011.

He is following in the footsteps of his father, Jay, a nine-time PGA Tour winner and 14-time victor on the Champions Tour, as well as his uncle, Jerry, and great uncle Bob Goalby. Jerry Haas wasn't as successful as Jay, but Goalby was an 11-time winner on the PGA Tour, including a win at the 1968 Masters.

The final two among this group are Anthony Kim and Sean O'Hair. Kim took time off last year due to a thumb injury after earning his third PGA Tour win and he seems to run hot-or-cold.

Kim started 2011 with three straight top-20 finishes, but has a withdrawal and two missed cuts in his last five events. If Kim can stay healthy, there is plenty of good golf left in him. The 25-year-old had three top-three finishes in a four-event span in 2010, including a third-place finish at The Masters.

O'Hair seems to be the biggest question mark among this group. He has already won three times on the PGA Tour, and played for the U.S. at the 2009 Presidents Cup.

However, he has broken par just twice in 14 rounds this season and a tie for 24th at the Honda is his best finish. Dating to last year, he has broken 70 just four times in his last 35 rounds.

Behind Woods and Mickelson, there is plenty of hope for American golf. These are just a few of the names people will here a lot of in the future, and there are several more that you probably haven't heard about yet either.

PLAYING THROUGH THE HEARTBREAK

There were four players from Japan competing in PGA Tour-sanctioned events over the weekend, and to their credit, all four completed the tournament they were competing in despite the troubles in their homeland.

Japan was rocked by a tsunami, an earthquake and several aftershocks as well. Thousands were killed and thousands more are without basic necessities. Yet, these four played on with heavy hearts.

Joe Ozaki tied for third at the Champions Tour's Toshiba Classic. He fired a 64 in round two after getting word that his family was okay. That was one stroke off his lowest round ever on the Champions Tour, while his share of third place was his best-ever tour finish.

Three others from Japan -- Ryo Ishikawa, Yuta Ikeda and Hiroyuki Fujita -- played in the WGC - Cadillac Championship.

Ishikawa had the best week of the three. He opened with a seven-under 65, but played the final three rounds in eight-over par to finish at plus-one. He shared 42nd, three shots better than Ikeda and six ahead of Fujita.

Regardless of where they finished in the event, to be able to focus on golf when there was so much trouble and angst in their homeland was a remarkable achievement. Let's hope they keep playing and doing well to inspire those in their home nation.

MINI-TIDBITS

- The LPGA is honoring the tour's founders this week and the entire purse is going to charity. It is troubling that only six of the top-10 players in the world chose to compete though.

- Michael Bradley won the PGA Tour event in Puerto Rico in a playoff on Sunday. It was the second time he won that event and was his fourth PGA Tour title. The win ended a run of four straight missed cuts for him.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Kevin Currie at kcurrie@sportsnetwork.com.

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PGA Tour News
· This Week in Golf -- April 24-27

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