It appeared Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy would never challenge each other for a win at a major. Now the two, along with Phil Mickelson and others, make up an interesting Masters field next weekend.
Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy headed on a collision course
Now, headed into the 2012 Masters this week, they are on a collision course, each taking a path over the past 12 months that would have been difficult for anyone to predict.
It started on April 10.
Woods, with four green jackets among his 14 majors, made up a seven-shot deficit in nine holes and was poised for his first comeback win in a major. But he failed to pick up another shot the rest of the day. A week later he mentioned a "minor injury" to his left leg that turned out to be much more.
It would be nearly four months until Woods completed another tournament and he fell out of the top 50 in the world.
Meanwhile, McIlroy was on his way to the greatest collapse by a 54-hole leader at the Masters in more than a 50 years. The tee shot behind a cabin left of the 10th fairway. A three-putt from seven feet on the 11th and a four-putt from 12 feet on the 12th. The lasting image was the Boy Wonder, only 21, burying his head in the crook of his arm after a wayward tee shot on the 13th. He shot 80 that day.
The devastation gave way to a coronation two months later, however, when the Northern Irishman shattered the US Open scoring record and won by eight shots at Congressional.
McIlroy has won twice and finished no worse than third in nine of his past 12 tournaments, and his win at the Honda Classic a month ago made him the second-youngest player (behind Woods) to be No 1 in the world, even if he held the position for only two weeks.
That made him the favourite for the Masters — until Woods ended a 30-month drought on the US PGA Tour by winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational three weeks later.
Here they come again.
McIlroy has a chance for redemption at the Masters.
Woods can resume he chase of Jack Nicklaus's record 18 majors.
"It was definitely a defining moment," McIlroy said of losing a four-shot lead last year at Augusta. "It could have been the crossroads of my career. I could have did what I did on Sunday at Augusta and let it affect me, maybe go into a slump or feel down or feel sorry for myself. I had enough good people around me not to let that happen.
"I was able to go down the right path, and do the right things, and to put everything right and win the next major."
Woods has been stuck on 14 majors since he won the US Open at Torrey Pines in 2008 on a badly damaged left leg. His last win at the Masters was in 2005. He has won the other three majors since.
He has withdrawn from two tournaments since last year, the most recent at Doral because of soreness and swelling in his left Achilles tendon.
But one week changed everything. He made a hard course at Bay Hill look easy and won by five shots, just like he used to do.
"I've gone into Augusta with wins and without wins," Woods said.
"You're looking for one week, that's all. Hopefully, everything comes together for that one week. I understand how to play Augusta National. And it's just a matter of executing the game plan."
It is easy to get wrapped up in the "Tiger and Rory" show at the Masters when it starts on Thursday.
The 76th edition could be so much more.
Phil Mickelson appears to have discovered his putting touch and shot 64 to win at Pebble Beach for his 40th career tour victory. Bill Haas backed up his FedEx Cup title with a playoff win at Riviera.
McIlroy went to No 1 in the world until Luke Donald won a four-man play-off at Innisbrook and regained the top ranking.
Eight players from the top 20 in the world already have won this year.
"Augusta is always the most exciting event, just because it's the first major; a lot of exciting things are happening in golf, a lot of the big names are doing well," Donald said. "Tiger is making a mini-comeback. All of the pieces are falling into place."
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