On Saturday, Fowler was paired with golf's new boy king, McIlroy. They've had a nice little rivalry going back to the 2007 Walker Cup, when Fowler was pivotal in a crucial second-day foursomes match over McIlroy in the U.S.'s eventual one-point victory. Fowler, for all his flash, approaches his career with the solemnity of a middle manager, and he is keenly aware that McIlroy's recent achievements have devalued his own. (Rookie of the Year in 2010, 11 career top 10s on the PGA Tour but no victories.) Fowler is too modest to say it, but he took immense enjoyment in thumping McIlroy on Saturday, 68--73. On Sunday, Fowler's putter went cold, and he could do no better than par the first 13 holes, falling too far behind to make a run at Clarke. But Fowler saw the pint glass half-full after his tie for fifth. "I really haven't been in contention come Sunday in a major, so it definitely felt nice," he said.
Kim was similarly bullish after his own tie for fifth. Since his stellar near-miss at the 2010 Masters he has been derailed by wrist surgery and subsequent swing problems. Two months ago Kim, 25, went back to basics with his action, telling his coach, Adam Schriber, "Let's start over, like I'm a beginner." His motivation has also been renewed by all the attention lavished on golf's other bright lights. "I definitely feel like I've been forgotten," Kim says.
Trying to keep up with the other guys helps explain how tiny Northern Ireland has produced three major champions in the past 13 months, fueling the notion that American golf is in trouble. It was left to accidental philosopher Bubba Watson to sum up his countrymen's productive week in England. "Bad golf is bad golf, and good golf is good golf," Watson said. "It don't matter where you're from. It just so happens that this week we're playing good golf."
It is, indeed, only one tournament. But even with all of the lads coming up short on Sunday, their showing in the Open bodes well for a U.S. contingent that has needed some good news.
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