Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus still the headline act, says David Livingstone

David Livingstone celebrates a weekend of golf featuring an alluring “past meets present” battle for The Open, a new, and humble, world No 1, but there’s little to admire about Bryson’s behaviour …

On a Sunday when Jon Rahm’s reign as world No 1 opened to rave reviews, golf’s two greatest all-timers proved that “The Jack and Tiger Show” is still the game’s most enduring box-office smash.

Earlier in the day, Nicklaus and Woods had seen their past glories played out on a fictional final day of The Open For The Ages, with Jack edging out Tiger on the basis of public opinion and an array of statistics.

Later they were both on hand in person to watch Rahm become only the second Spaniard to become Numero Uno, and let’s be clear the presence of golf’s two most decorated champions made the occasion all the more important.

Tiger’s return at Jack’s Memorial Tournament, joining an already fabulous field, provided a welcome alternative to a week of mourning the absence of the Open Championship.

The virtual experience of The Open for the Ages was a warm, comforting, trip down memory lane and a credit to everyone who devised and created such a clever concept, but without the back-up of a real-time tournament like The Memorial, it would have been a melancholy experience for some of us.

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As it happened, the transition from a fictional final round shoot-out between Tiger and Jack at the Open to a concluding round at Muirfield Village where both of them were involved in their own ways had a pleasing symmetry.

For Jon Rahm to triumph in these circumstances against the best players in the game and to emulate his compatriot hero Seve Ballesteros was surely his best day in golf.

If any confirmation was required, it came from his own lips later when he said: “I’m really looking forward to getting a milkshake!” Apparently, this was decadent pleasure he had denied himself on the previous three days so it was a celebration indeed.

For a young man who had lost his composure on the course when his eight-shot lead began to evaporate, and who had been shocked by a retrospective two-shot penalty for an incident on the 16th, he had certainly recovered by the time he spoke to the media later.

He talked about Woods and Nicklaus as the two greatest golfers the game has ever seen, he discussed the sadness of losing his grandmother and an aunt during the pandemic, and, crucially, when asked about how being world No 1 might change him, he replied: “Golf is just what I do. It’s not who I am.”

He went on to say if he ever had to make a choice, he would rather be a good person than a good golfer. These soft, compassionate words seemed strange coming from a bear of a man who three hours earlier had been pounding his driver into the ground in a fearsome a display of an explosive temper he’s been trying to tame.

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For what it’s worth, I believe him and that’s probably why I found it so easy to forgive Rahm’s display of temper mid-round when, two days before, I could not do the same for Bryson DeChambeau after his rudeness to tournament officials.

Cry Baby Bry is probably resigned to joining Patrick Reed’s bad boys’ club and that’s fair enough because golf needs its pantomime villains just as it needs all the other fascinating storylines of The Memorial.

Remember, Bryson gave us his good stuff too with a 423-yard drive and, of course, there was the puzzling experience of seeing Tiger moving and swinging like a thoroughbred one day, hobbling along struggling to make the cut the next.

We saw Brooks Koepka trying yet again to overcome a knee problem that just is not going away. Then there was Rory McIlroy toiling as an also-ran, desperately trying to rediscover his wonderful run of form from before the shutdown.

On the other hand, it was heartening to see Matthew Fitzpatrick get a return for his bold decision to travel to the USA early and quarantine before the Tour returned in June.

All of these ingredients are vital for a game like golf that will have to fight for attention in what could be a crowded sporting calendar towards the end of the year.

Right now, in the USA where major sports are still in lockdown, golf is enjoying a high profile with television audiences swollen by casual fans but it remains to be seen if that will continue when others get back to normal.

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Here in the UK, with football and cricket back, golf has to fight for its share of attention and, frankly, money. The European Tour’s big comeback this week with the start of the UK Swing is vitally important as a showcase for a product that has thrived in recent years but now faces a daunting economic battle.

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