The final round of the 142nd Open Championship was billed as Lee Westwood’s date with destiny, a time for him to emulate the victorious achievements of Justin Rose at last month’s US Open and give English golf a rare back-to-back Major success.
Winning was his opportunity to finally step out of the shadows of others and cast away the tag of nearly man. If he won at Muirfield, it would have been the icing on the cake, made all the more special by the pedigree of its past champions.
For the first three rounds, his golf had been impressive. He had made his share of errors but then so had everyone else and a two-shot lead represented a very significant advantage, given the sharpness of his short game and his patient, relaxed mindset.
But there are no prizes given out after three rounds in Major championships, and such were the difficult course conditions, the pedigree of the field chasing him down and his own desire to win, that yesterday was always going to be a difficult day for Lee.
As experienced as he undoubtedly is, he had never delivered on the final day of a Major championship when it had mattered most and he must rue the silly run of mistakes he made around the turn yesterday at a time when it looked to be very much controlling affairs.
Would his older and more experienced former caddie, Billy Foster have allowed him make those same mistakes? Who knows, but once that chink in his armoury was exposed, it gave hope to others around him, like Adam Scott, to enter the fray.
From that moment on, the outcome of the tournament was always going to be decided by whoever had the courage and conviction to overcome the challenges posed by Muirfield’s difficult closing holes.
Was this championship going to be won by an individual or was it going to be lost and handed to an eventual winner through the errors of another, in a similar pattern to last year with Ernie Els’s victory at Royal Lytham?
Thankfully, a true champion emerged in the guise of last week’s Scottish Open winner, Phil Mickelson. Here was a man with the courage of his own convictions, a man who has consistently stayed true to his own golfing values. Aggressive by nature, he has lived a golfing life full of spectacular highs and soul-destroying lows. Such set-backs, like his collapse at last month’s US Open, would destroy most, but no one should ever underestimate Mickelson’s resolve and determination.
Unbowed, this shot-maker stays committed, playing golf with a purpose and grace that we rarely see from competitors today. He never plays behind darkened glasses and always has a smile. He engages with the galleries but most importantly he stays committed to challenging the course rather than retreating into the type of defensive mode that we so regularly witness in Major championships (Tiger Woods take note).
Very much in the mould of Arnold Palmer before him, he appreciates the worth of his gallery and understands his role on the golf course is to keep them entertained, regardless of whether he is having a good or bad day at the office.
To win from Mickelson’s starting position yesterday took a lot of courage. The courage to dream and to believe, the courage to hit the required shots and most importantly the courage to win especially when the winning post was so near.
Last month he couldn’t get that job done but yesterday he crossed that same line in spectacular fashion.
Balance is not a word that we really associate with Mickelson when discussing his golf swing, but the balance he has so openly demonstrated in his family life, with his long-time caddy Jim “Bones” McKay as well as the golfing public at large, has made him a potent force.
Watch out because this great entertainer is fully capable of winning many more Majors in the future.
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