Welcome back, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson

Tiger! Phil! Where ya guys been? Great to have you back!

On a Monday in which the United States needed every one of its players to bring their best game, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson did exactly that ... and for golf fans, it was awesome to behold.

Over the course of a sunny morning at Celtic Manor, at a tournament in which both had been reduced to mere afterthoughts, Woods and Mickelson played two of the finest rounds of their entire 2010 and were a key reason why the United States almost, almost held onto the Ryder Cup.

First, Woods. Coming off a flat-out whipping on Sunday, Woods stumbled early to Francesco Molinari, going down two right off the bat. But he squared it up by hole nine, and hammered Molinari with birdie after birdie -- seven in all -- and topped it with this memorable eagle:

(Better video as soon as we have it.)

Woods would go on to beat Molinari 4 and 3, and looked so much like the pre-Escalade Tiger that it was almost like seeing a rerun of, say, 2008 Torrey Pines.

Mickelson, for his part, displayed his classic outstanding short game and some dead-on putts stroked from somewhere around Big Ben. Coming into Monday, he was 0-3 on the weekend, looking lost and uncertain through all the team events. But cut loose of the responsibility of shepherding younger players, Mickelson returned to his classic form, topping Peter Hanson 4 and 2.

What are we to make of this? Well, the critics will say this is only one round of golf, and not even a full round at that. But of course it is. One round is far better than zero rounds, even in Wales, and the fact that both Woods and Mickelson played with such sustained excellence means both these guys have some game left. Plus, it's not like these were irrelevant Sunday slogs with the tournament being decided elsewhere. Both matches were critical and necessary, both offered the opportunity for a flameout under pressure.

Monday's play bodes very well for 2011. Much as we enjoy seeing Jim Furyk, Matt Kuchar et. al. rolling at the top of the leaderboard, there's nothing to compare to Tiger and Phil storming the stage.

Plus, somebody's got to slow the inevitable advance of Lee Westwood. Might as well be these guys.

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