The most pressing question in golf is not who will win the Smurfy blue jacket that goes to the winner of the Wachovia Championship. It's not whether Phil Mickelson can get any less popular with the rank and file after getting a free pass out of last week's EDS Byron Nelson pro-am.
With its field of 28 of the top 30 players in the World Ranking, and its tight, long (7,438 yards) host course, Quail Hollow, the Wachovia ought to be a pretty good tell for who might do well in this summer's U.S. Open. Only once in the last four years has the Wachovia champ failed to finish in the top six in that summer's Open. But he's never won it, so the Wachovia is predictive only to a point.
I'd like to see if Retief Goosen, who looked so good at the Masters, can get back into the win column on Tour for the first time since the 2005 International. He played well at Quail last year, going into the final round just a stroke behind the eventual winner, Jim Furyk, but he coughed up a Sunday 77.
But all of that is just window dressing, same as the Wednesday pro-am pairing of Tiger Woods and Charlotte businessman Michael Jordan.
Here are three big questions I'd like the Wachovia to help me sort out:
Will Phil Mickelson's new partnership with coach Butch Harmon continue to bear fruit?
Phil's 66-65 weekend at the Nelson was an encouraging sign that he's getting control of his worst club, the driver.
Before his decision to switch coaches, Phil had been going in the wrong direction literally and figuratively. He hit only 31 of 56 fairways for the week at the PGA last summer, which ranked T63 among the field of 70 players who made the cut. That seemed bad until he hit only 28 of 56 fairways at Augusta, which meant it was a 50/50 proposition that he could find the short grass.
Those odds aren't going to get it done in a major, or at Quail Hollow. But there's reason to believe he's coming out of his long-game funk. His swing looks tighter under Harmon, and he might have won the Nelson had it gone another 18 holes. Mickelson's record at the Wachovia is not as mediocre as his T35 last year would have you believe. He finished T7 in 2005, T5 in '04.
Can Tiger get his own driving figured out?
Woods hit just 31 of 56 fairways at Augusta.
As the Tour heads into the summer season, the golf gets more meaningful and the fairways get tighter. Tiger can make birdies from neighboring fairways at some courses, but Quail isn't one of them, and neither is Oakmont, where last week he tinkered with Nike's square Sumo driver.
Woods missed the Wachovia last year due to the death of his father, and he's never won it. In two starts, he's notched a T-11 in '05 and a T3 in '04. He's coming off an ignominious first at the Masters last month: the first time he's failed to hold a final-round lead in a major.
Perhaps Jordan will remind him that guys like them just don't do that.
Is Tiger Inc. on the verge of a big change?
One thing Woods won't stand for is losing, and he looked furious after his second bogey-bogey finish on Saturday at Augusta, marching to the range to brood while refusing to talk to swing coach Hank Haney or caddie Steve Williams.
Perhaps Woods thought Williams had pushed a bad club, or Haney had helped build a flawed swing. Woods has split with coaches (Harmon) and caddies (Fluff Cowan) who helped him win majors on his rise to number one, and seems to embrace big, scary changes every four or five years in his relentless desire to improve.
If Woods gives another lackluster showing this week and again treats Haney and Williams like luckless autograph hounds, rumors will fly.