For the first 12 weeks or so of 2013, it looked as though this year's Masters may have a wildly different narrative than one would usually expect.
Aside from an entertaining new commercial, there wasn't too much to get excited about the new swoosh pairing because both men looked as though they were going to take a circuitous route to get to Augusta.
But then, Woods got a putting lesson from Steve Stricker and the three victories that followed gave him back the No. 1 ranking from McIlroy. The comeback story was completed two weeks ago, when the new/old No. 1 romped to victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Aside from the symbolism of Woods returning to No. 1 and the Woods-is-back narrative that followed, questions lingered around McIlroy that didn't appear as they were going to be answered before Augusta.
There were no putting lessons, but a clever decision to add another tournament to his schedule seems to have put McIlroy right. That's because after playing just OK in Houston the week previous (T45), McIlroy looked every bit his normal self in finishing second last week at the Valero Texas Open, an event he originally had not planned on playing. Only a course-record, nine under-par 63 from Scot Martin Laird on Sunday prevented McIlroy from winning.
The end result: The Masters has a clear favourite in Woods; and a clear second favourite in McIlroy.
Should the rest of the field show up? Why, of course.
The Masters has slowly surrendered its tendency to crown one golfer from a short list of favourites and that doesn't bode well for Woods or McIlroy this week.
Total it up and five of the past six champions have been longshots and that now has to represent a trend rather than a quirk.
Woods not completely himself
For whatever reason -- and take your pick from course changes, personal scandal to injuries -- Woods hasn't been completely himself at Augusta since last winning there in 2005.
The reasons why McIlroy hasn't won the Masters are more conventional. He hasn't yet had the opportunity to completely, ahem, master the course and harness the nerves that betrayed him two years ago, when he frittered away a commanding lead.
It says here that McIlroy is still a year or two away from figuring it all out. Instead, watch for both Woods and McIlroy to be part of the conversation and eventually fall short.
Others who could come through? How about Justin Rose, a player who has played well in stretches at Augusta, but never quite enough to win. It could be the likable Englishman's time. Ditto for Rose's countrymen, Luke Donald and Ian Poulter.
Dustin Johnson? Maybe, but the above point about McIlroy applies to him as well.
Darkhorse(s)? How about Phil Mickelson, who is having a quietly successful season without winning. Ernie Els will also warrant a look, given his stirring British Open win last July. And speaking of the Open, Adam Scott blew that tournament, but he has played well at Augusta the past two years. If you believe in karma, maybe, just maybe, the golf gods will smile on the Australian this week.
Uncertainty over Weir
Mike Weir's victory here 10 years ago will be a talking point, but as this missive is being tapped out, the Brights Grove, Ont., native is unsure if he will even play because he's nursing yet another nagging injury.
If you're looking for a Canadian story, the best you'll likely find is Brandt Snedeker, who won the FedEx Cup last fall, and his caddie, Scott Vail, who hails from Oshawa, Ont.
Snedeker was in contention in 2008 and Vail made Canadian eyeballs take notice when he unzipped his trademark Augusta white caddie overalls to reveal a t-shirt with a Toronto Maple Leafs logo. It was interesting for another reason: Vail's father, Eric, was a longtime NHLer who won the Calder Trophy as top rookie in 1975 -- but he never suited up for the Leafs.
Last year's winner, Bubba Watson, has a Canadian connection in wife Angie, who grew up just east of Toronto and has been known to bring her long-hitting husband with her on occasion to smack around a few balls at Bushwood Golf Club in Markham, Ont.
Watson would be a nice story, but the reality is he's been a bit uneven since winning at Augusta and first-time winners, typically, don't come back and play well, likely due to the increased demands on their time.
We'll know Sunday evening if another player of Watson's ilk will have to navigate the tricky landscape of being a newly crowned Masters champion.
Whatever happens, the golf season is upon us for real.
Follow Peter Robinson on Twitter @PRGolfWriter
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