Masters 2012: Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson Will Give Tiger Trouble at Augusta

Gil ImberAnalyst IIMarch 28, 2012

SHANGHAI, CHINA - NOVEMBER 06:  Phil Mickelson of the USA (right) and Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland share a joke on the fifth hole during the second round of the WGC-HSBC Champions at Sheshan International Golf Club on November 6, 2009 in Shanghai, China.  (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)
Andrew Redington/Getty Images

Tiger Woods might have won the Arnold Palmer Invitational—his first PGA Tour win since the BMW Championship 923 days ago—but don't expect Woods to sail smoothly to victory at Augusta next week.

For the past decade, no golfer has been as (in)famous as Tiger Woods—from winning it all and often to losing just as much (technically, losing exactly half as much)—which invariably has given rise to fast reactions from the sports world in declaring a Woods resurrection following his Invitational win.

Call me a skeptic, but Tiger's two PGA titles in a span of 923 days isn't convincing enough to give Woods his "King of Golf" crown back—after winning the 1997 Masters, he didn't win again until 2001.

It won't be smooth sailing at Augusta, either, with Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson waiting in the wings.

Though Woods is a 3.25-to-1 favorite in Las Vegas to win the Masters, McIlroy is close behind at 4-to-1 with Mickelson rounding out the top threesome at 9-to-1 at the Sportbet Sportsbook, and for good reason.

Woods and Mickelson are both green jacket alumni—Woods has won four times, Mickelson has won thrice—and while Woods has spent the past several years finding himself, young Rory McIlroy has exploded on the scene, making the cut of his last two tournaments entered and winning $209,400.

By winning the 2011 US Open, McIlroy became the ninth-youngest Open winner, the youngest since 21-year-old Bobby Jones in 1923.

For those not familiar with legend Bobby Jones, he is still the only golfer ever to complete the sport's grand slam, winning all four major championships in the same year.

For McIlroy, being on the same list as Jones is special and exhibiting signs of the legend is even better: McIlroy was named professional golf's N o. 1 athlete earlier this month. Could Woods possibly have enough steam to take that away from the young man from Northern Ireland?

As for 42-year-old Phil Mickelson, the World Golf Hall of Famer owns 40—count them, 40—PGA Tour victories to his name, including the 2012 ATT Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. Though Woods might be vying for the de facto title of career come-back kid, Mickelson has already made it happen at Pebble Beach, erasing a six-shot deficit on the final day of the event to win.

With nine top-10 finishes at the Masters over the past 12 years—including Masters wins in 2004, 2006 and 2010—Mickelson has proven himself to be consistent and a perennial contender.

Active since 1991 and with 18 cuts made out of 19 tournaments entered, Mickelson has more experience than Woods (1995, 16-of-17 cuts made) and though he is older and not the sparkplug that Woods is, Mickelson is the golfing world's embodiment of the idiom, "Slow and steady wins the race."

So while Woods tries to climb back to the pinnacle of the PGA, keep in mind that McIlroy and Mickelson have been making progress all along and stand to put up a real fight at Augusta.