James Lawton at The Open 2013: Tiger Woods' fiercely competitive flame is more like a feeble flicker these days

There is a good  deal of accumulating evidence that  something quite irrecoverable has gone

In still another sadness crowded into the otherwise admirable career of Lee Westwood he will always be remembered as the leading casualty of the 142nd Open.

Almost every major has one. At last year’s Open it was Adam Scott leaving the door open for the “Big Easy” Ernie Els and that made the Australian’s subsequent celebrations at Augusta especially sweet.

But then are we really sure that Westwood was indeed the big loser when Muirfield turned on him with such sudden, cold inhospitality in the Sunday dusk?

Was there not an equally compelling case to be made on behalf of the latest ruined ambitions of Tiger Woods?

This, after all, was the tournament which most everybody agreed could not have been better tailored for his first major triumph in five years.

After two days of close scrutiny, his playing partner – and former US Open champion – Graeme McDowell issued a eulogy that took us – almost – right back to the days when the world of golf had been virtually annexed by its breathtaking young champion.

Sixteen years on McDowell had, it is true, different reasons to extoll the Tiger’s virtues. The Ulsterman talked of remarkable new levels of patience, the most refined course management and an almost other-worldly knack of recovering lost ground.

The Tiger might not pounce as he did in the old days when the talk was not so much of wonderment at an extraordinary new talent but the need to proof the great courses against his power to humiliate all those who sought to put obstacles in his way.

No, the new threat came by stealth and a unique understanding of his own powers, said McDowell. For him, there would not be the slightest surprise at the sight of Woods being reunited with the old Claret Jug.

McDowell’s theory remained buoyant enough on Saturday, moving day, with Woods just two shots behind Westwood, and this was despite the fact that he had never won any of his 14 majors while coming from behind on the last day. He was certainly happy to support McDowell’s prediction. “I’m fine just plodding along, putting myself in position to win.”

The trouble was precisely that. The Tiger plodded – again – while his bête noir, the luminously smiling hero of Middle America, Phil Mickelson, once again managed to shoot the lights out.

For a second time since Woods won his last major – epically and courageously to claim the US Open along the cliffs of Torrey Pines in 2008 – Mickelson not only claimed one of the game’s great prizes, he did it with extraordinary relish and panache.

In Augusta three years ago, while splintering the hopes of Westwood, he captured both his third Green Jacket and the imagination of the golfing world. Once just another marginalised victim of the Tiger onslaught, he re-affirmed his own hero status. He played delicious, improbable shots and moved the galleries as the young Woods once did.

Then, as a player of the quality of Ernie Els admitted, it was enough for Woods to come into Amen Corner with some wind in his sails for the entire field to be instantly diminished.

That was the Mickelson effect in Augusta in 2010 – and at Muirfield on Sunday.

Not only did it usurp the old lustre of the Tiger it also made you wonder if something quite irrecoverable has gone from a game that was once such a wonder of the sporting life.

There is surely a good deal of accumulating evidence. While the all-round security of the Tiger’s game has been widely acclaimed, along with his repossession of his old No 1  world ranking, the wait for the old assassin’s touch, that ineffable ability to separate himself from the rest of a major field, is stretching out quite ominously.

This year he has gone into Augusta, the fiendishly tricky Merion for the US Open, and a Muirfield of burnt greens and arid fairways, a prohibitive favourite – but each time the big shifts of power, the most significant surges of momentum, have passed him by.

After Augusta, Scott was the new star despite his time-expiring broom-handle putter. After Merion, Justin Rose was enshrined as a major winner of exceptional competitive character. After Muirfield, Mickelson is again the bearer of golfing joy.

Where, we have to ask, does it all leave the Tiger? He is six years younger than Mickelson but while the Californian remains a purveyor of fire and optimism, the man who once made a dwarf of him, along with the rest of the golf population, seems to grow a little more conservative with each new challenge.

When Els played the tortoise to Scott’s hare at Lytham last summer, the Tiger brought despair to his warmest admirers by his failure to properly engage in the race. A few days ago he made a hugely appreciated joke about reaching for the driver only on the practice range.

Everyone chortled hugely at the time but the laughter sounded rather hollow when the Tiger closed with a round eight shots inferior to Mickelson’s.

Not only is he no longer burning bright, the Tiger invites us to celebrate the absence of anything resembling an old flame. He seems to see it as career progress. Others might reasonably sniff a hint of tragedy.

Australia’s problem is  the lack of passion

It is bad enough that the Australians appear to have left the last of their steel at the Trent Bridge scene of that stunning first Ashes Test.

Even more disturbing is the view of one veteran observer of sport Down Under who interrupted his coverage of the Open to report that the news from Lord’s was unlikely to provoke too much outrage back home.

“The problem,” he said, “is that this is not only one of the worst Ashes teams, if not the worst, ever fielded by the country, it is also one of the least likeable. They are rich but seem somewhat less than passionate about what they are doing.”

And there we were fretting about the low ebb in Aussie form and talent. The new fear must be that we are bang in the middle of nothing less than a collapse of one of the greatest cultures world sport would ever know.

Fair play to Froome

In all the doubts that inevitably besiege the Tour de France, there is certainly no hardship in hoping that the achievement of Chris Froome proves equal to all the tests of time.

In a sports world that has maybe never been so dominated by the force of self-interest, the new, Kenya-reared hero of British sport has repeatedly suggested a man of both superb perspective and impressive humanity.

Anyone who has attended, in good times or bad, the climax of the Tour in the Champs-Élysees knows that few celebrations in sport are more designed to bring on a bout of self-aggrandisement in the winner.

This made Froome’s reference to the missing smile of his late mother all the more touching.

Time ticking for Rooney

Against the background of another summer of extraordinary achievement for British sport, the last thing Premier League football needed was the prolonged and essentially desperate saga concerning the whereabouts of Wayne Rooney’s future.

If he was still one of the most serious and consistent talents in the national game it might be somewhat different but unfortunately the last time such a claim could be made on his behalf was roughly three years ago.

It means that a new club – and a new testing ground – should be only his second greatest priority. The first, it has never been clearer, is for him to take a look at the clock. It is, surely, a lot later than he and his people seem to think.

Voices
Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
News
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Sport
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas