The international guys

With one day remaining in the 75th edition of the Masters, we're on the cusp of a truly memorable major that have seen several international players step front and center onto the world stage.

Of course, the biggest name is Rory McIlroy, who could officially be coronated as golf's next great young player Sunday evening.

Many would find significant that the top seven on the leader board after 54 holes all hail from countries other than the United States -- McIlroy (Northern Ireland), Angel Cabrera (Argentina), Jason Day (Australia), Charl Schwartzel (South Africa), K.J. Choi (South Korea), Luke Donald (England) and Adam Scott (Australia).

This is the first time in the history of the Masters that no American player is in the top five going into the final round.

If McIlroy or any of the other six win the Masters, it will mark the first time since 1994 that all four major championships have been held by international players. The current list includes McIlroy's countryman, Graeme McDowell (U.S. Open), South Africa's Louis Ooosthuizen (British Open) and Germany's Martin Kaymer (PGA).

The 1994 list consisted of Spain's Jose Maria Olazabal (Masters) South Africa's Ernie Els (U.S. Open) and Zimbabwe's Nick Price (British Open and PGA).

Of course, that tends to put off some Americans who wonder why players from the United States can't do better. But golf is now a worldwide game with worldwide media exposure, with improved teachers and facilities.

All the young players at Augusta National this week, including McIlroy and Day, talked about having watched Tiger Woods and his history making march among the Georgia pines in 1997 as young children in their native countries.

And let's not forget the influence of American colleges on these players. Donald starred at Northwestern, Scott played at UNLV and McDowell competed for UAB.

There's nothing better for any golf fan who will watch the final round of the Masters than seeing great golf, and a lot of the great golf this week has been accomplished by the international players. Nothing wrong with that.

"Everybody shouldn't be focusing on the fact that they're all from other countries," Chubby Chandler, the agent for McIlroy and England's Lee Westwood, told the Augusta Chronicle in a story published Sunday. "Golf's in great shape. They're all young kids who respect the game.

"Charl's an absolute junkie, Rory the same way, Day the same way. They're all great people. I think you should be focusing on that more than where they come from. Everybody is forgetting about the game. Everybody is worrying about where they come from."

The world invasion began with Gary Player, who became the first international player to win the Masters in 1961 and then took issue with a broadcaster who used the word "foreigner."

It truly has become a world game. Six European players were ranked in the top nine of the World Golf Rankings entering the week, including McIlroy at No. 9.

Should McIlroy win Sunday, some people will want to compare it to Woods' breakthrough first victory in 1997 since it would be virtually a wire-to-wire run (McIlroy was tied for the first-round lead with Alvaro Quiros). But leave it to McIlroy to offer some perspective.

"Not really," he said when asked if his win would be comparable to Woods. "He's done so much more for the game than I ever could or will, breaking down barriers. But a win for me personally, it would be huge. For the game of golf, it would be nice as well. It would be nice to get a major early and show some of the young guys that it's possible."

Win or no win, it won't change the fact that you'll be hearing a lot about McIlroy for years and years.

--Joe Juliano