Which brings us to Rory McIlroy. Hey, you never know. At 22, he already has hoisted a U.S. Open trophy. It doesn't figure to be the last major he'll put his name on. Still, there's an appreciable difference between even Mickelson's resume and Mount Rushmore material.
"He has all the makings of being a great champion for a long period of time," is how Woods described the potential of what could become Northern Ireland's greatest export. "He led, what, seven out of eight rounds in [the first two] major championships last year, which is pretty impressive right in a row. So he just needs to get more experienced. That's just from playing. He's put himself there, seems like every single tournament he's in, he's in the top 10. And that's great to see."
McIlroy is back at the Masters, where he was indeed the bloke atop of the leaderboard after 18, 36 and 54 holes last April. In fact, he was still in front heading to the final nine. Then he hooked his drive at No. 10 halfway to Atlanta, which led to a triple bogey and a closing 80 that was difficult to watch. He could have been scarred. Instead, 2 months later he lapped the posse at Congressional Country Club to win the U.S. Open.
So much for any lingering fallout.
He talked about it then. He's not about to back away from the subject 12 months later.
"One of the things I learned was that as a person and as a golfer, I wasn't ready to win the Masters, wasn't ready to win a major," McIlroy admitted. "I really needed to think about what I needed to do to improve mentally and in different aspects of my game to get better."
He was able to erase the demons quickly, which is never a bad thing. Yet, he had to confront that 10th tee again.
"It's great to be able to laugh about it now," he said. "I mean, I can't believe how close those cabins [to the left of the fairway] are. They're only 50 yards off the tee . . . I played the hole a couple of different ways [this week]. Depends on how firm it is. But I haven't changed any sort of game plan or anything from what happened last year. I'm just really excited to be back."
Obviously, the only thing that CBS and most of America is pulling for is him and Woods to be right there at the end. As if that's not asking too much.
"To be honest, I couldn't care less about who the bookies make [the] favorite," said McIlroy, who is paired with 2009 champion Angel Cabrera and long-hitting Bubba Watson in Thursday afternoon's next-to-last group that heads out at 1:42. "It's only on paper. Look, I think it's great for the tournament that Tiger is back playing well. He creates excitement that no one else in the game can. A lot of people want to see him make history, and it looks like he's back on track to maybe going and doing that. I'm just looking forward to hopefully getting myself in contention and giving myself a chance. And maybe coming up against maybe the best player ever . . .
"Everytime you come back to this place, you're just excited to be here. I was sitting having lunch before I went out and you just look around and you look out the back of the clubhouse and you see the first tee, ninth green, 18th green, down to the second, you can almost see down to 15. Obviously there's memories that come back, and memories that you probably don't want to. It's fine. I got that all out of the way."
But until he's getting fitted for a green jacket, there will always be the one that got away. That's the way it goes.
"It was such a blur," McIlroy said. "It was really hard to remember. Everything went so quickly. It wasn't just the tee shot. It was way before that. It was how I approached the whole day. I went through it a million times.
"I had a quick glance [at the cabins] on the way past walking down the middle of the fairway. Hopefully I'll do the same thing during the [tournament] this week."
So he's moved on. But he can still reflect.
"As golfers we lose more than we win," he said. "It's not [always] a failure [when] you don't. It's only golf. It wasn't the end of the world. It's not like anyone died out there last [year]. I knew I'd have another chance. [But] it was the first time I'd cried about anything in a long time.
"That day, I felt like from watching the tape, I was always looking at the ground. I was very insular. My shoulders were a little [hunched over]. Sort of like I didn't want to . . . embrace the situation and say, you know, let's enjoy this.
"A lot of things have definitely changed over the last 12 months. Especially weeks like this, where there's so much hype and buildup, [you] create this little bubble around yourself and just try and get into that and sort of don't let any of the outside interference come into that."
Welcome to Tiger's world. And perhaps the genuine future.
"You have to remember," McIlroy cautioned, "it's not just about two guys or three guys or whatever. Every guy has to just think about themselves. That's all you can really do, in any tournament. It's nice to be getting all the praise and everything, but you have to take it with a pinch of salt. I'm nowhere near the achievements or level or success that Tiger's had over the last 15 years. You don't win 14 majors and 70-odd PGA Tour events for nothing. I mean, it takes time.
"People are very quick to build players up and they are quick to knock them back down. People have very short memories. He won the 2008 U.S. Open on one leg. He can do a lot of things that other people can't.
"But hopefully I can one day even get close to that point, you know."