Phil Mickelson birdied four of the last six holes of the Open Championship at Muirfield to claim the prize that even he had doubted was within his compass. In taking possession of the Claret Jug, another level of professional fulfilment had been attained, a fifth major and the third element of a career Grand Slam. He was a popular winner, the only man to break par over four rounds and three strokes better than anyone else. This famous course does not permit imposters to sully its roll of honour. The company he keeps is consummate with his standing in the game. Now that he has conquered the wild frontier, the exposed links which had prodded his weaknesses with their crooked finger, he deserves a recognition which many were not prepared to concede. When we speak of the greatest, no longer should he remain an embarrassed afterthought.
I don’t know what’s wrong with Rory McIlroy but I do know that golf can be a cruel game when mental disintegration takes hold. As a two times former major winner there’s no hiding place from the legions of well-intentioned amateur psychologists who think they have all the answers. The Ulsterman cut a lonely and disconsolate figure, bungling his way from the rough to the sand during his truncated visit to Muirfield, a hellish passage which brought a twelve over par total for two rounds and a free weekend with his thoughts. I’d leave him alone. You can’t have your sports stars just how you want them to be, and in truth there’s not a lot wrong that won’t just slot back into place naturally.
Lee Westwood is the latest to be saddled with the tag that every golfer dreads. Next year he will turn forty and time is running out if he is to shed his unwanted sobriquet. The best player never to have won a major heads to Royal Lytham for this week’s Open Championship desperate to rectify this anomaly. Some experts argue that his unreliable short game leaves him condemned to remain the nearly man, but far from creaking under the weight of internal pressure and external goodwill, Worksop’s finest appears more relaxed and comfortable with his game than ever. If the Claret Jug finds itself in his hands come Sunday evening, there could surely be no more celebrated winner.