By Mark Lamport-Stokes
BETHESDA, Maryland (Reuters) - While the European Tour celebrated its fifth successive major champion after Rory McIlroy's astonishing eight-shot victory at the U.S. Open, American golf grappled with an unprecedented title drought.
For the first time since the Masters was launched in 1934, U.S. players have failed to triumph in five consecutive majors. Not since 1994 has a year gone by without an American holding at least one of the four grand slam crowns.
Northern Irishman McIlroy coasted to victory in record-breaking style at Congressional Country Club on Sunday to follow in the footsteps of his compatriot Graeme McDowell, who clinched last year's U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.
Following McDowell's major breakthrough, South African Louis Oosthuizen won the 2010 British Open, Germany's Martin Kaymer landed the 2010 PGA Championship and South African Charl Schwartzel claimed his first major at the Masters in April.
European players also rule the roost at the top of the world rankings where they occupy the leading four spots for the first time in nearly 20 years.
With former world number one Tiger Woods a shadow of the dominant player he once was due to assorted injuries, loss of form and the break-up of his marriage, things appear to look bleak for Americans at the pinnacle of the game.
However, as 1997 PGA champion and next year's U.S. Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III pointed out after tying for 11th at Congressional, success in golf often comes and goes in cycles.
"Everything goes in streaks," the 47-year-old American said after posting successive scores of one-under-par 70 over the weekend at the U.S. Open. "We might be talking about how four Americans win the next four (majors)."
Love also felt that the recent increase in European players competing on the U.S. circuit had to be taken into account.
"They're half of our (PGA) Tour now," he said. "I think you can give Seve (Ballesteros) a lot of credit, Seve and Bernhard Langer, for letting the Europeans realize that they can work hard, come over here and compete with the Americans.
Spaniard Ballesteros and German Langer were part of the heavyweight major-winning European quintet which emerged in the late 1970s and also included Sandy Lyle, Nick Faldo and Ian Woosnam.
"The world is a smaller place, so I think we're going to have to get used to it," added Love. "Look at the leaderboard every week on Tour. It's a third U.S. and a third European and a third Asian or South African or Australian guys."
Kaymer, who won his maiden major title in last year's PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, felt the slide of Woods since the end of 2009 had been a significant factor.
"I think that the Americans struggle a little bit, since Tiger has been -- how do you say? -- a little down," the 26-year-old German said. "Since then nothing has really happened.
"We (European golfers) have just become so much stronger. I think it started with Padraig Harrington at the British Open and the PGA. He gave us at least the belief that we can win here in America as well."
Irishman Harrington clinched the British Open in 2007 and 2008, plus the 2008 PGA Championship at Oakland Hills.
McDowell, who tied for 14th at the U.S. Open on Sunday, agreed with Kaymer.
"It's just watching your colleagues and friends and guys you play with week-in and week-out doing things like that which gives people the belief," the 31-year-old Northern Irishman said.
"There's no doubt my win last year has given Rory the belief to do it, and Charl and Louis and all of the above."
Woods won the most recent of his 14 major titles at the 2008 U.S. Open, although fellow Americans Lucas Glover (2009 U.S. Open), Stewart Cink (2009 British Open) and Phil Mickelson (2010 Masters) have since enjoyed success.
(Editing by Frank Pingue)