March 12--They were the Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer of their day, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.

The only question is -- is their day really over?

It would appear not, after Mickelson won the WGC-Mexico Championship March 4 and Woods nearly matched the feat Sunday at the Valspar Championship, falling into a second-place tie by one stroke.

They're back. And if anything could make the upcoming Masters Tournament more exciting, having Mickelson and Woods in contention would do it nicely.

As Woods was teeing off for his first round last Thursday, Mickelson lightheartedly predicted a good weekend for his rival, saying, "He's always one-upped me in my career. I wouldn't be surprised if he came out this week and won just to one-up me again."

He very nearly did.

Tiger sank a huge 44-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole to pull within one shot of leader Paul Casey. After being unable to pull off another long birdie on 18, he settled for a close second -- which had to be buoying and liberating after a five-year win drought, back fusion surgery and a painful public admission last year that he might never even play competitively again.

He played this weekend. And very competitively.

That Tiger roar from the gallery instantly became a pre-Masters buzz, especially with a victorious Mickelson right behind him.

The buzz isn't just in the gallery or the studio, either. Vegas, which initially had Woods' odds to win the Masters this year at 100-1, now has him at 10-1 -- below only world players No. 1 and 2, Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas.

That may be a little generous -- especially considering that 2017 Masters champ Sergio Garcia is at 30-to-1. But over-anticipation is a cherished part of any sport these days. And if it only builds drama and excitement for the biggest tournament of the year, what's the harm in that?

They've pushed each other for years -- with Mickelson admitting he "would not have played as well as I have throughout my career had it not been for him, nor would I have elongated my career to this point ... had it not been for him."

But to the delight of the golfing world, which has one eye on Augusta right now, Phil and Tiger are still pushing each other, at 47 and 42 respectively.

"We've gotten pretty close over the last couple of years," Mickelson said last week. "He's the one that got me started working out back in 2003 and, granted, a lot of my fitness is hidden under layers of fat.

"We've been pulling hard for each other."

A lot of others are pulling for them too. While it's been exciting to see young players such as Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas -- perhaps the next Nicklaus and Palmer -- take charge, forgive millions of baby boomers for relishing the thought of one more Ali vs. Frazier. Or a few more. The "old-timers," for old-time's sake.

"Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson Are Breathing New Life Into Golf," heralded The Wall Street Journal, even before Tiger's run Sunday.

And you were worried the bloom had come off the azaleas.


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