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Tiger Woods hasn't won an Open Championship since 2006, and its unlikely he will be a factor this week. (PHOTO: Jim Hunter / )

Changing of the guard will continue at British Open

Phil Mickelson unexpectedly captured the British Open last year in Scotland at the age of 43. Tiger Woods last won a Claret Jug at the site of this year's Open Championship, Royal Liverpool, in 2006.

They may be sentimental favorites, or players you want to see recapture some glory this week, but let's face it, the changing of the guard in golf will only continue over the next four days in England.

For a long time, I was a guy who believed Woods would get healthy and challenge Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 major championships.

His body has betrayed him too often since that spectacular 2008 U.S. Open, however, and so have his nerves. Now all he can hope for is the occasional late-career major (or two) that fell into the laps of Mickelson, Darren Clarke and Ernie Els.

(Ironically enough, all of them won those majors in their 40's at the British Open, and a 59-year-old Tom Watson nearly won it in 2009 at Turnberry in Scotland.)

While Royal Liverpool will bring Woods good memories, and Open Championship venues might suit his decaying game better now than the three American majors, he's frankly not in major championship shape just yet. He's only played once since returning to competition after back surgery, and Woods has all but admitted he doesn't practice as much anymore.

Say what you want about golfers, you don't get to be as good as they are without grinding away on the practice range. It's a perishable skill – and it goes far more quickly if you don't keep sharpening the edges age and injury dull.

Then there's Mickelson, who you can also put in this conversation.

His five-shot victory at Muirfield was masterful, and incredible. In the 19 appearances he made in that major prior to last year, he only contended twice.

It wasn't just that, though. Mickelson had only won once a year since 2009, and he got that out of the way in February 2013. But, he was playing well going into the Open with three top 3's, including a hearbreaking runner-up at the U.S. Open.

But after that, he never really contended again in his final six tournaments of the 2013 PGA Tour calendar. This year hasn't been any better. In 15 tournaments he's missed the cut three, withdrawn twice and doesn't have a top 10.

Between 1997 and 2008 those two won 17 majors, finished second 12 times and third nine times. They were the best in the world.

Obviously, painfully, no more.

The problem is in golf, the casual fans needs singular greatness. (Or, a signature rivalry between two or three great players.) Let's face it – Mickelson was never Woods' true rival in his prime. Mickelson was just the happy-looking oh-so-close loser who provided a counter to Woods' steeliness and veneer of invincibility. But they won and contended enough that you could pick one or the other and know they were going to be in it at the end.

Now, not so much. And the new crop of "young" players (I'll count the Adam Scott's and Justin Rose's of the tour, too, who are both into their 30s now) is less than inspiring. It's because they all play the same, their swings look the same, they all act and react the same.

Perhaps that's what we miss most about Woods and Mickelson. Sure, they won – a lot – but they emoted. You always knew where they stood, good or bad. You could relate. You would get something from them – whether it was a Tiger Roar or a thumbs up from Mickelson.

The guys now? Meh.

It's funny to think that we've transitioned to the point where those two once dominant figures will become a "feel good, old guy" story when (if?) they ever capture another major. But, time waits for no man, and no game. It's too bad though – I think we'll always feel we didn't get enough out of that pair, despite 19 total majors won.


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