Stricker trying to end American drought

It's been more than a year and six major championships since an American last won one of golf's big four tournaments.

Steve Stricker is looking to change all that.

In a year where all four major championships have been played, it's never happened where every tournament was won by a non-American. If Stricker has his way, we'll still be able to say that come Sunday afternoon.

At No. 5 in the world, Stricker comes into Atlanta Athletic Club this week as the top-ranked player from the United States. He sure played like it on Thursday with a seven-under 63, one missed putt on the par-four ninth from setting a major championship record for low score.

Despite the ranking, Stricker, at 44 years old, is likely in the late stages of his competitive PGA Tour career, and he's still looking for his first major title not unlike two of the four players ahead of him in the world rankings.

So, not only does he have his own pressure on his shoulders, but he now bears the weight of a prideful country's golf superiority that went unchallenged for so many years.

Stricker, though, downplayed that pressure after a superb opening round of golf.

"I just want to go out and play, try to play well, let all that other stuff take care of itself," he said. "It's flattering when somebody says (I'm the best American golfer), but really, I'm just trying to go out there and play well and let my play do the talking."

Without Tiger Woods at golf's forefront -- well, his typical forefront; he's always there somehow, good or bad -- no American golfer has been able to step forward despite a large window of opportunity. Instead, it's been European after European.

Since Woods' 2008 U.S. Open victory, there have been nine first-time major winners. Chronologically, the first two of those nine were American (Lucas Glover, Stewart Cink), but the last seven haven't been.

With some of the younger Americans such as Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson and Anthony Kim unable to win the big tournaments so far, Rory McIlroy, another European, has surpassed them and then some in the "Next Tiger" sweepstakes.

Sometimes it's better to look toward the grizzled veterans, who are less likely to wilt under the pressure as Johnson has done several times in big spots. That doesn't mean someone like Stricker has handled pressure well -- he was outdone in the 1998 PGA Championship by Fiji's Vijay Singh -- but he's contended more often than the guys in their 20s.

"I'm older and I'm probably a bit more wiser," he said. "I'm just enjoying (the majors) more so than I did earlier in my career, I think."

Stricker represents more of the old guard than the new one, more like 42-year- old British Open champ Darren Clarke than 26-year-old Masters champ Charl Schwartzel and 22-year-old U.S. Open champ McIlroy. After Clarke became the oldest first-time major winner since 1967 only last month, Stricker can exceed that mark if he continues on his current path.

"I've kind of given myself a break," Stricker said of his attitude toward his game. "I'm a little easier on myself. I really have nothing more to prove out here except maybe to win a major."

So after only 18 holes, Stricker seems to be the favorite go on and win, but it's no secret that 54 holes in a major championship can be a wild roller coaster ride. He may not be looking specifically to end the American drought, but if he doesn't, it could be a long wait until somebody else does.