Hunter Mahan and Rory McIlroy are two of the big storylines entering the Shell Houston Open.
You're up, Rory.
At the Shell Houston Open this week, Rory McIlroy will try to regain his No. 1 world ranking in his final tuneup before The Masters.
That shot Woods back to his familiar perch atop the world rankings. And without him on the field in Humble, McIlroy has a chance to snatch the prestigious spot right back.
But the Northern Irish prodigy will have plenty of competition from this tournament's fellow elite competitors.
Defending champion Hunter Mahan—who beat McIlroy in the WGC-Accenture Match Play event final last year as well—will look to continue another hot start to the 2013 campaign.
There are plenty of other big names to watch in addition to those two, including several who played extremely well at the Redstone Golf Club Tournament Course in 2012.
Below is a breakdown of everything you need to know, who to watch and a winner prediction ahead of this marquee event. It promises to be a thriller, as many of the game's top players are utilizing the venue as a tuneup for Augusta National.
Location and Tee Times
Where: Redstone GC Tournament Course, Humble, Texas.
When: Thursday, March 28 to Sunday, March 31
Tee Times: Click here for Thursday and Friday tee times, courtesy of PGATOUR.com.
Thursday: Golf Channel, 4-7 p.m. ET
Friday: Golf Channel, 4-7 p.m. ET
Saturday: Golf Channel, 1-3 p.m. ET; NBC, 3-6 p.m. ET
Sunday: Golf Channel, 1-3 p.m. ET; NBC, 3-6 p.m. ET
Groups to Watch
No. 17: Phil Mickelson, Hunter Mahan and Geoff Ogilvy
An extremely rough week at Bay Hill left Mickelson well outside the cut line, as he continues to struggle with consistency this season. A bounce-back here is definitely necessary if he wants any shot at a fourth green jacket in a couple of weeks.
Even if all hasn't been going according to plan on the course, check out this video, which has set the Internet abuzz in recent days by showcasing Lefty's extraordinary short game (courtesy of Callaway's YouTube channel):
Mahan has been playing solid golf all year long, highlighted by a runner-up finish in defending his match play title.
If he can formulate a similarly gallant effort at this particular venue, expect Mahan to be in contention when the weekend rolls around. When he has the putter hot, few people in the world can hang with the American ball-striking extraordinaire.
Several years in obscurity for the smooth-swinging Aussie have led to a welcome return to form for Ogilvy in 2013. Well, at least for one tournament, where he finished solo second at the Honda Classic.
Otherwise, Ogilvy has either missed the cut or not even sniffed the top 25. This is one of his final chances to get into The Masters.
So, if there is a week for him to bounce back, Humble has to be it.
No. 30: Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy and Keegan Bradley
Come on, tournament organizers...no you didn't.
This trio is going to absolutely command the largest galleries of the tournament.
Both Johnson and McIlroy were struggling mightily for the most part this year—D.J.'s victory at the exclusive Hyundai Tournament of Champions notwithstanding—before showing signs of life at the WGC-Cadillac Championship.
Johnson finished tied for 12th, while McIlroy surged up into the top 10 thanks to a final-round 65 (h/t Golf Channel). McIlroy discusses the state of his game and also his pursuit of Tiger Woods in the video below.
Has anyone noticed Bradley lately, too? He appears due for a win after finishes of joint fourth, seventh and a tie for third in his past three starts.
All three of these young men are extremely electric to watch—Johnson because of his incredible length and powerful swing, McIlroy due to his ability to dominate at any given time and Bradley because of his insanely intense on-course antics.
McIlroy and Bradley have to be considered strong contenders, and either of them could very well come out on top.
No. 31: Brandt Snedeker, Bill Haas and Steve Stricker
A superb beginning to the season for Snedeker started solidifying him as an elite player—probably the third-best golfer in the game after Woods and McIlroy.
Snedeker is one of the seemingly nicest guys on Tour and is arguably the best putter on the planet. Look for him to bounce back after knocking off some of the rust from his five-week hiatus.
The FedEx Cup champion who preceded Snedeker was Haas, who co-led at Bay Hill after 36 holes before faltering on the weekend. Haas isn't the most exciting player to watch demeanor-wise, but he will hit some of the best iron shots you'll see anywhere.
Will Gray of GolfChannel.com has Stricker No. 1 in his power rankings for this week—and for good reason.
On a more limited schedule, the 46-year-old has produced top-five finishes in each of his three starts thus far. The slick greens and emphasis on short game prowess will certainly help Stricker, so don't be surprised if he is in it to win it coming down the stretch.
Predicting a Winner: Rory McIlroy
It's really hard to pick one individual out of an entire, spectacular field.
McIlroy is barely into his young career, but it seems every time the sentiment emerges that he isn't going to challenge Woods, he suddenly rises to the occasion and erupts for a phenomenal performance.
Who do you like to win?
However, things have quickly changed.
It's up to McIlroy to respond like no one ever has in standing up to Woods, who looks to have truly regained his dominant form.
I am admittedly partial to giving McIlroy the benefit of the doubt, but the top 10 at Doral on the strength of that Sunday round is enough to win me over.