Mickelson's win sets up the best Masters in a decade

All this, and now Phil too, huh?

Phil Mickelson’s dramatic playoff victory over Justin Thomas in Sunday’s WGC-Mexico Championship isn’t just a victory for the Old Guys, though it’s definitely that. (If Mickelson used SnapChat, his #SB2K18 story would be a bunch of pasty guys sitting around a sensibly-designed patio fire pit, drinking macrobrews while Kenny Chesney played in the background. Like, the real Kenny Chesney.) But Phil’s win is also a new high-water mark for a sport that’s suddenly heading into its major season with more tailwind than it’s had in a decade.

It’s not like Augusta National ever needs to entice viewers to tune in to watch their friendly little invitational tourney during the first week in April, but it’s tough to imagine how the golf world’s circumstances could set up any better for the Masters than they do in 2018. You’ve already got the best players in the world rounding into form, and now the best-known are joining them.

Inside the ropes, Mickelson’s always been criminally underrated in the eyes of pretty much everyone other than the guy he sees in the mirror. The quarter-century-long championship-level career, the five majors, the 43 Tour wins (ninth all-time)—they all withered under the suffocating shadow that Woods cast over much of Phil’s prime. And post-Tiger Phil has all too often roped headlines for everything other than golf—his savage Ryder Cup takedown of Tom Watson, his connections to figures involved in insider trading, his close-but-not-quite British Open duel with Henrik Stenson back in 2016.

Right about when we were all ready to write him off as a guy more interested in taking his fellow pros’ cash in money games on Tuesdays than their trophies on Sundays, he goes and wins again—and does so against one of the reigning Best Players in the Game. And that means we can add Lefty—who’s won three times at that remote east Georgia course—to the list of notable April storylines, a list that also includes:

• Thomas, who’s ascended from “Jordan Spieth’s buddy” to World No. 2, and a guy who’s managed to ingratiate himself with golf’s elder elite by getting his own heckling fanbase tossed out of tournaments. At Augusta, where they’ll pitch you for your fashion critiques, Thomas will be like Darth Vader at the end of “Rogue One,” carving right through galleries that even hint at unruliness.

Dustin Johnson, who’s still got a score to settle both with Augusta and with the guest-house staircase he fell down right before last year’s tournament, sidelining him in a year that he’d already been tagged the presumptive winner. He’s won twice since then, and still looks every bit the favorite to win his first green jacket.

Bubba Watson, the two-time Augusta champion who’s rebounded from a disastrous equipment choice and some still-undisclosed health issues to win yet again on Tour. He’s a guy whose game is absolutely tailored to Augusta, and whenever he tees it up, he’s a threat to win. And also to knock a patron unconscious with a wayward drive.

• Spieth and Rory McIlroy, who will forever live with the memories of the green jackets they gave away on Sunday-afternoon back nine collapses—on No. 12 in 2016 and No. 10 in 2011, respectively, but you already knew that—until they’re able to win again. And don’t even try the old “it doesn’t really bother them” line. We all know that ain’t within a DJ drive of the truth.

Rickie Fowler, who after Sergio Garcia’s win last year now gets the fancy Best Never To Win A Major adjective bolted to his skull unless and until he can close the deal.

• Oh, and let’s not forget … that dude who wears red and black on Sundays is playing some decent golf these days too.

That’s about as solid a lineup, both from a pure-play and a narrative perspective, as you could possibly expect. You’ve got heroes, villains, drama, redemption, age versus skill, storylines for golf fans ranging from get-in-the-hole bros to Nicklaus-did-it-all-better cranks. Everything in the sport is set up perfectly for the kind of major season that deserves everything from memes to books. So, with all appropriate and necessary apologies to the fine folks at the Valspar Championship, the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Dell Match Play, and the Houston Open … can’t the Masters go ahead and get here already?
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.