Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson will make their 2014 PGA Tour debuts this week in something of a home game for both superstars.
Defending champion Woods hopes to capture his eighth 2013 Farmers Insurance Open title at Torrey Pines, where he has won eight times overall, while Mickelson will bring his "crazy s**t" and a runner-up finish in Abu Dhabi back to familiar San Diego turf. Jason Day may be the only other top-10 player in the field this week, but that hardly dims the luster of the event, since it is, as always, pretty much all about Tiger and Phil.
Both the world's No. 1 and No. 4 golfers enter the year with major question marks looming. Will Tiger finally grab that elusive 15th major and get back to chasing down Jack Nicklaus’ mark of 18 major titles? And can Phil capture his first U.S. Open and achieve a career grand slam?
Woods, who chalked up his most recent major victory, the 2008 U.S. Open, at Torrey, believes he has a good chance to prevail on each of the venues hosting this year's majors. He’s won four times at Augusta, earned the British Open at Hoylake in 2006 and the PGA Championship at Valhalla in 2000, and has two top-three finishes at the U.S. Open site at Pinehurst (third in 1999, second in 2005).
"I've won at every one except for Pinehurst, and I'm trending in the right way," he joked last month. "I'm looking forward to the major championship venues this year. They have set up well for me over the years and I look forward to it."
Perhaps a bit too much, if you ask Johnny Miller.
"He wants it so badly, he has that desire and dream," the NBC analyst said in December, suggesting that, in addition to that dratted flagstick, internal pressures may keep Woods outside the major winner's circle. "I think he just wants it so badly and he knows Augusta was made to order for him."
Mickelson, with those heartbreaking six runner-ups in his national championship, worries that the same may hold for him at Pinehurst, where he lost to Payne Stewart in the 1999 U.S. Open and finished T33 in 2005.
"I have a bit of a concern about Pinehurst because I'm almost looking forward to it too much," Mickelson, a three-time Torrey Pines winner, noted in November.
"There's no hiding the fact that winning the U.S. Open would be my career goal of completing the career Grand Slam, and that’s the final leg that I have," he said from Kuala Lumpur. "I'll be putting most of my focus into winning the U.S. Open."
We’ll have to wait until April to know whether Tiger can put that five-plus-year major-less drought behind him and June to see if Phil, with his U.S. Open-based curtailed schedule, will attain his dream in 2014. The tune-up begins Thursday on Rees Jones’ redesigned 7,298-yard, par-72 jewel.