5 Yanks to watch at Sandwich

For the first time in golf’s modern era, five majors have passed without an American winner.

With a wounded Tiger Woods out of the picture, the past 11 majors have been won by 11 different players but only three have flown the Stars ’n’ Stripes: Lucas Glover, Stewart Cink and Phil Mickelson.

(In contrast, there were 15 consecutive different major winners from 1990 to 1994 and 11 of them were Americans.)

With the golfing world marveling at the success of young international stars such as Rory McIlroy, here are five Americans in the field this week at Royal St. Georges — a course with a habit of crowning first-time major champions — who might just put an end to a national drought.

1. RICKIE FOWLER

The cynics may question Fowler’s ability to close tournaments — he’s still in search of his first win after blowing a gilt-edged chance at the AT&T National — but just because the kid’s got style doesn’t mean he’s lacking substance. Remember that McIlroy didn’t exactly find winning to be second nature: His triumph at Congressional was only the third win of his professional career.

Fowler was impressive in his first British Open last year, finishing 14th. More impressive was that he finished 67-71-67 after opening with a 79. Playing college golf in Oklahoma taught him how to deal with the wind, a big advantage when playing links courses. And Fowler’s last trip across the Pond was memorable, too, when he finished with four straight birdies to square his match with Edoardo Molinari at the Ryder Cup.

2. NICK WATNEY

The Californian has two big wins to his name this year: the World Golf Championships event at Doral and the AT&T National. He’s rocketed into the world top 10 and his coach, Butch Harmon, thinks he’s as good as anyone in the game after sharpening his short game in the last off-season. Watney finished seventh at St. Andrews last year and arrives in Sandwich with as much confidence as anyone.

3. BUBBA WATSON

He learned during his miserable two days at the French Open that France has a Riviera even more famous than the Redneck Riviera from which he hails. Bubba also learned that visitors shouldn’t be impolite. He’s missed the cut in his two previous British Open but the controversy over his bad attitude in Paris two weeks ago may just fuel Watson, who’s won twice on tour this year, at Royal St. Georges. He’s a creative ball-striker and he’ll be on a course where the ability to shape shots depending on the wind gives him a huge advantage.

4. STEVE MARINO

Talk to anyone in golf and they’ll tell you that Marino’s the new Mark Calcavecchia. He’s laconic, laid back, loves a beer, plays a power fade and makes lots of birdies. Calc won the 1989 British Open, so maybe there’s some symmetry there, too? Marino has made the cut at both of his two previous appearances across the Pond and was tied, with Tom Watson, at the halfway point of the 2009 Open at Turnberry.

5. SPENCER LEVIN

If Marino’s a dark horse, what to call Levin? He’s the longest of longshots, playing in just his second British Open, but Royal St. Georges is a quirky course with lots of blind shots and bad bounces and a history of producing unexpected winners. Jack, Arnie, Watson, Faldo, Player — none of them ever won here. But Bill Rogers and Reg Whitcombe did. And let’s not forget that the last time we were here, in 2003, the Claret Jug was claimed by an anonymous Ohioan, Ben Curtis, a man in his first major who’d never even played links golf before. So why not Levin? He’s a gritty competitor who putts well and has a ball flight that naturally rarely gets much above his head: perfect for the gales that blow across Sandwich.