This is rare territory. Like the planets aligning. Or a warm early April day in Maine.

It’s Masters week, and if it feels like golf’s most celebrated and prestigious event is a little more dramatic than usual, with a little more on the line, you’re not alone. These are historically exciting days going on at Augusta National Golf Club, and if you’re a golf fan, you won’t want to miss a moment.

It’s not just because Tiger’s back, though that is a big part of it.

It’s because of everyone.

Everyone who in the past 20 years has been considered the face of the game is not just playing, but playing well. And not just playing well, but playing with expectations — realistic ones — of winning a green jacket that has been preceded by more hype and attention than perhaps any before it.

Who knows if this Masters will end up as the greatest one yet. It likely began, however, as the most anticipated.


Golf, like any sport, has defined eras. They’re not always adjacent to each other, but they are separate from each other. The Hogan era didn’t overlap the Nicklaus era, which didn’t overlap the Woods era. And the eras seemed to turn from one to the next earlier this decade, when Jason Day, Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth began winning majors and removing any doubt that the game was in the hands of a new generation. And they were in peak form going into Augusta. McIlroy has a win this year. Jordan Spieth almost won last week. Justin Thomas, a late arrival to this new wave, has been perhaps golf’s most consistent player of late.

This year, however, there’s overlap. The old guys aren’t done yet. Phil Mickelson, a three-time winner at Augusta who knows the pine straw, creeks and hills as well as any 20-something to whom he supposedly helped pass the torch, has a win this year and is a good bet to win again at Augusta at 47. Tiger Woods is not just back playing, he’s back threatening. Tigermania is in full force at the Masters, originally feared killed by Woods’s back surgery, now back to galvanize an already stacked field with the looming presence of the most dominant player the game has seen.

They’re all back — past, present, even future. At this rate, all that’s missing was for Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player to card 65s and put themselves in the mix, too.

This never happens. One generation hands off to the other, that’s the way it works. Montana, Marino and Elway gave way to Brady and Manning. Griffey Jr. and Bonds were long gone by the time Trout and Harper arrived on the scene.

Now, at this Masters, the current generation’s stars are locked in a battle with the previous generation’s. This would be like teams led by Michael Jordan and LeBron James meeting in the NBA Finals. Or having the last four teams standing in the Stanley Cup playoffs be the Mike Bosse Islanders, Wayne Gretzky Oilers, Steve Yzerman Red Wings and Sidney Crosby Penguins.

There was never a chance to watch an in-his-prime Pedro Martinez face an at-his-peak Miguel Cabrera. But Woods and Spieth could be on the 18th green on Sunday, all tied up, with a pair of putts to decide the Masters.


There’s no guarantee this will pan out. This is the most exciting Masters, but it may not be the best. By the time this column is read, Woods and Mickelson may have sliced or snap-hooked enough shots to put themselves in danger of missing the cut. Spieth, who led by two strokes after the first round, could be burying the field like he did in 2015. Heck, Sergio Garcia — a prominent figure from that Woods and Mickelson era — tried to ruin it already, carding a 13 on the 15th hole en route to an 81 that immediately freed up the defending champion’s weekend.

What makes this like a drug for golf fans are the possibilities. The potential that this could be like the 1986 Masters, still the best in the tournament’s 82-year history, during which contemporary stars Greg Norman and Seve Ballesteros were playing for the win, only for 46-year-old Jack Nicklaus to charge from out of nowhere and take down a pair of standouts more than a dozen years his junior with a barrage of birdies and eagles.

Imagine if that transpires again. Imagine if Friday and Saturday transpire the way they need to, and the final groups on Sunday become the game’s best, past and present, taking turns holding the lead. Woods and McIlroy going for eagle on 15. Mickelson and Spieth trying to stick shots on 16. Day, Thomas, Bubba Watson or Dustin Johnson putting out on 18, finishing dramatic back-nine charges. Even Fred Couples, at 58, notching one birdie after another like it’s 1992 all over again.

Okay, that last one is far-fetched. But it would fit the theme going in. Normally, one era gives way to the next. This time, the best of past and present are going after the same prize.

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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