Here's a headline that tells you all you need to know about this week in golf: "Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson prepare to resume normal service."
It comes from the Sunday Herald in Scotland, and drolly affirms our yearning to see the Tiger-and-Phil show, which is set to return at the Quail Hollow Championship in Charlotte, N.C., this week.
Now more than ever, watching golf without Tiger and Phil is like watching rodeo without the bullriding.
Before we get to the reasons for that (below), some news:
– Tiger will tee off in the pro-am at 7:30 a.m. eastern time Wednesday. Phil's tee time is set for 1:03 p.m.
-Mickelson and then Woods are to give back-to-back, roughly 35-minute press conferences starting at 11:45 a.m.
– Not counting his week at hermetically sealed Augusta National, this week will mark the first truly public appearance by Woods since the start of his nearly five-month long sex scandal in November. According to Lee Patterson, who handles media at Quail Hollow, "We have no extra security, but we do have a security consultant that works with the Mecklenburg Police Department, and we've always had a number of officers here since day one."
– Quail Hollow again will be played without a title sponsor — it is quietly backed by Wells Fargo and Co., in the amount of $7 million, according to reports.
– With Steve Stricker still nursing a sore right clavicle that forced him out of last week's Zurich Classic of New Orleans, five of the top 10 in the world will play, but for all intents and purposes it's a two-man field, the champion and the challenger.
The right-hander, Woods, has 71 Tour wins, 14 majors and a conga line of tabloid photographers on his back bumper. The left-hander, Mickelson, has 38 Tour wins, four majors and a legacy of stunt-golf that has resulted in heartache (Winged Foot, 2006) and holy-s— moments (Augusta, '10).
While it's conceivable that neither will win, they will command the spotlight nonetheless, and one or both will almost certainly contend at the very least.
In four starts at Quail, Woods hasn't been out of the top 11. He won in 2007 and his average finish is sixth place. Mickelson's average finish in six starts is 11th, including a T3 in '07 and T5s in '04 and '09.
Can Phil wrest the No. 1 spot from Tiger? Can the sometimes-wild Mickelson find a way to win on a tight, tree-lined track that seems destined to host a U.S. Open? Can Woods? And can he curb his churlish cussing and club-chucking without losing his edge?
Adding to the intrigue is the ongoing but overly simplistic morality tale (good Phil vs. bad Tiger); the fact that they've appeared on the same sod just once (Augusta) in 2010; and that at various times lately they've both seemed on the verge of falling apart.
We still don't know how much of a priority golf is for Phil. In support of his wife, Amy, battling breast cancer, he has more than once maximized family time by flying into tournament sites on Wednesday night, leaving no time for practice rounds.
He won't do that this week, according to his publicist, T.R. Reinman, who says Mickelson and trainer Sean Cochran were scheduled to fly from Carlsbad to Charlotte on Tuesday afternoon.
Mickelson began hitting balls again the Sunday after the Masters, and last week played with his brother, college golf coach Tim, in Palm Springs.
The normally tight-lipped Woods has been chirping about one of his recent practice rounds. On his blog at tigerwoods.com, he congratulated Mickelson for winning the Masters, thanked Augusta patrons for their support (and apologized for his outbursts), and revealed that he recently double-eagled a par-5 at Isleworth and shot 63. "So my game is improving," he typed.
After an up-and-down tie for fourth at Augusta, in which Woods actually popped up a few tee shots in the manner of a 20-handicap, it needs to. He was considered a shoe-in to win the U.S. Open and British Open this summer, given that those majors return to Pebble Beach and St. Andrews, where he won by 15 and eight strokes, respectively, in 2000.
But now we're not so sure. He is not the player he was then, having drastically changed his swing.
Already pundits have begun to salivate at the prospect of a "Mickel-slam." But we're not so sure about that, either. Mickelson not only went winless in his first seven starts of this year, he didn't contend. We may look back on the 2010 Masters as a one-off, a nice diversion, courtesy of a golf course that even Mickelson admits transforms him like nothing else.
That said, the Sunday money may fall to 2006 champion Jim Furyk, already a two-time winner this year. Anthony Kim is coming off a third-place finish at Augusta and a tie for 16th place at the rain-shortened Ballantine's in Korea. The winner here in '08, he will be fighting not just Tiger, Phil and Furyk but also jet-lag and a sore left thumb.
Reigning U.S. Open champion Lucas Glover tied for second at Quail Hollow last year, as Sean O'Hair notched the most impressive of his three Tour wins. Fred Couples, T8 at Quail in '08, leaves the old-guys tour for Charlotte. England's Lee Westwood, whose travel plans have been complicated by the exploding volcano in Iceland, is seeking his first W in the U.S. since 1998 and will try to improve on his lackluster record (T61 in '07; MC '06) at Quail.
On other tours …
– Lorena Ochoa, who said she always wanted to end her career in Mexico, ends her career at the LPGA's Tres Marias Championship at Tres Marias C.C. in Morelia, Michoacan, in central Mexico. She's 28, so one wonders how long retirement will last, but in any case Suzann Pettersen, runner-up to Ochoa in '09, returns this week, as do Brittany Lincicome, Grace Park, Morgan Pressel and Michelle Wie.
– Tommy Armour III, Paul Azinger, Hale Irwin, Tom Kite, Bernhard Langer, Mark O'Meara, Nick Price and Loren Roberts headline at one of the Champions Tour's three new events in 2010, the Mississippi Gulf Resort Classic at Fallen Oak in Biloxi. With no Couples in the field, there's an extra couple hundred thousand on the table for somebody.
– Former University of Georgia golfer Chris Kirk will be a crowd favorite at the Nationwide Tour's newly named Stadion Athens Classic at UGA, on the University of Georgia Golf Course, designed by RTJ Sr. and renovated in 2006 by Davis Love III.
– Spaniards Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Pablo Martin and Alvaro Quiros are among those who will play in the European Tour's Open de Espana at Real Club de Golf de Sevilla.