International players have won golf's last four majors, the first time that has happened since 1994. And none of them was older than 30. Likewise, none was a household name like Lee Westwood or Rory McIlroy.

But maybe the state of the game shouldn't really come as any kind of shock. Internationals also own six of the top eight spots in the world rankings, with Phil Mickelson (at No. 4) and Tiger Woods (eighth) being the lone Americans. Now we know what can happen when the guy with 14 majors goes through a messy divorce. Or was it those nagging physical issues? Either way, welcome to the new order. At least for the moment. How long it lasts maybe only the Bubba Watsons and Dustin Johnsons of the food chain can help determine for sure.

Northern Ireland's Graeme McDowell started it all at last year's U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, when he came from three down on the final day despite shooting a 74 to beat France's Gregory Havret by one.

Since then it has been South Africa's Louis Oosthuizen at the British Open, Germany's Martin Kaymer at the PGA Championship and Charl Schwartzel, another South African, a month ago at the Masters. So is it just a sign of these times?

"I'm a big believer in sort of the way the game cycles," said McDowell, who became the first European to win a U.S. Open since Tony Jacklin did so 4 decades earlier. "Obviously, there was a group of European players back in the '80s and '90s who won majors. Sandy Lyle, Nick Faldo, Seve Ballesteros, Jose Maria Olazabal, Bernhard Langer. We're starting to do the same. We're getting many more opportunities to play at that level. European golf is stronger right now. Asia's looking strong, too. There's a lot of good U.S. guys, but golf is very global these days."

That might be a great thing for the rest of the planet, but does it necessarily go over well in this country?

"Of course you know people are going to pull for their own guys," acknowledged McDowell, who will defend his title June 16 to 19 when our national championship returns to Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md., for the third time and first since 1997. "It's only natural. I'm sure the American public wants to see the American players up there doing well. But I'm sure they can embrace the internationals as well. I can understand why there might be a little bit of dwindling in interest [over here]. Still, it's only a matter of time until the strength comes through with the American players.

"I think they had it pretty cool there with Tiger, for 15 years or whatever. With him taking a step back it kind of allowed a lot of us to win a few. It's given the public a chance to see everyone else out there. Tiger's by no means done. He will be back, I imagine. But this shows how healthy the game really is."

That's certainly one way of assessing the playing field. And a diplomatic one at that. We'll just have to see how it unfolds. In the meantime, perhaps we have to get used to it.

McDowell, who is ranked fifth, hasn't been performing as well this season, as evidenced by Sunday's final round of The Players Championship. McDowell shot a final-round 79 to finish eight strokes behind winner K.J. Choi. McDowell entered the final round with a one-shot lead.

McDowell is coming off a 7-month run that couldn't get much better. At last October's Ryder Cup, he earned the clinching point in Europe's victory at Celtic Manor in Wales. Then he came from behind to beat Tiger in a playoff at Tiger's own tournament, the Chevron World Challenge in December.

"To have that kind of season was just amazing," McDowell said recently at the U.S. Open media day, where he got to play Congressional for the first time. "When you win a major, they say it's a life-changing experience. You hope you can back it up. Deep down, you want to continue to prove yourself. You don't want to be a one-hit wonder.

"I'm looking forward to digging myself out [of his current slump]. You need to get your butt kicked every once in a while. It's all good. There's an overwhelming responsibility that comes with [success]. The phone's a little hotter these days. I get recognized in airports and coffee shops. I can't slip in the back door. It takes a little time to get your head around it all."

Nice problem to have. On any continent. *