Three weeks ago, the world No. 2 was oak-solid in Inisbrook, and climbed back to No. 1.
Two weeks ago, the world No. 1 in the minds of many, if not on top of any lists, won a tournament for the first time in a while.
And last weekend, a scraggly-bearded, steady-swinging redhead chilled the field in Houston, and now he’s No. 1, too, in one small measure: the PGA Tour money list.
Three tournaments, three winners, three names to throw in the soup for which there is no recipe … just the richest of ingredients for the most savory Masters Tournament in many years.
None of the three winners above is named McIlroy or Mickelson. One of them, however, is named Woods, and hell if that doesn’t make all the difference down in Augusta, Ga.
Luke Donald, apparently in his prime at 34, won in a playoff at The Transitions, and got his No. 1 back, supplanting Rory McIlroy. Donald led the PGA and European Tour money rankings in 2011, was everybody’s player of the year, and still seems to think we all think, “What have you done for me lately?” And we do. Get used to it, Lukey.
Last weekend, with the narrowest of leads down the stretch, Hunter Mahan made par after par when the birdies weren’t forthcoming and won the Shell Houston Open. He’s the only player on the big tour with two wins this season.
In between, Tiger Woods won a tournament. Tiger Woods played well in every facet of the game. Tiger Woods won by five strokes, over a strong field, at Bay Hill.
McIlroy is at Augusta this week, site of his final-round breakdown last year. In the view of many, he has the talent and the personality — with a redeeming victory at the U.S. Open in the bank — to be the “next.”
Mickelson is here, too, where he’s won three times. He’s nobody’s “next” — he’s just Phil. No win here would be more popular with the galleries.
Unless maybe it was Woods. The Masters doesn’t need Tiger Woods — it would endure without him, or anyone. But world golf needs Tiger Woods, and the Masters is golf’s biggest stage.
At the very least, it will mean something, again, if you beat him this week. And we know there are guys who can do it. Bring the big spoon.