Mickelson at home in Tiger's country

The Masters: Augusta was once thought of as made for Woods - but now it may suit the reigning champion better
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Another Masters, another member of the Fab Four to be clashing crass polo shirts against green come Sunday evening? Most probably, yawn, yawn. After all, between them they have won four of the five Masters contested so far this century and, if anything, their dominance has been increasing at an even swifter rate than their bank balances. "Does golf really want to see the same guys winning every time?" Jack Nicklaus asked the other week. "Isn't that in danger of becoming slightly boring?"

Jack is rarely wrong - in fact never, just "misquoted" - but "boring"? Not on your 18 majors, not when the Fab Four's personalities differ widely enough to make the Beatles look the Nolan Sisters. No, golf's Fab Four are set to run and run as their egos collide, as Vijay runs into Ernie, Ernie into Lefty and Tiger into all three of them. This lot - Vijay Singh, Ernie Els, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods - have wings.

It is difficult to imagine anybody else but this quartet striding in single file across Magnolia Drive next week. "Retief Goosen," many will cry, but, in truth, the player who has become known as the "fifth Beatle" is more personal best than Pete Best. But if any - or, more tellingly, all - of the real members are not quite firing, then this admirable technician could well weave his wily way to the spoils. With no disrespect intended, though, Goosen is the Double A side of golf.

And that should not be good enough among the azaleas as Augusta makes its annual entreaty for the brightest talent in form to blossom. True, there have been the bolts from the hullabaloo, including Jack's tearful trip back down major lane and Ben Crenshaw's heart-yanking homage to Harvey Penick. But, by and large, it is incredible how the Masters consistently ensures that he who deserves it usually gets it.

Last year Mickelson was living proof. His light-fingered back nine in 31 strokes deftly lifted the Green Jacket from Els's shoulders with the South African barely noticing it. Lefty deserved it, Lefty got it.

By that same token, Els deserves his first Masters, but unless his game can slip back into the groove it's so at home in, then it must be doubtful whether he will get it this year. It is a mark of the standards Els now sets himself that a winless four weeks represents a barren spell.

Mind you, the same is true for Woods, Singh and Mickelson, but for some reason their hopes do not seemas forlorn. Perhaps this can be put down to the reduction of pressure that jacket in the wardrobe brings, and in Singh's case he is clearly just a few putts away from his world No 1 best.

Those few putts, however, can be magnified 100 times over on the shimmering surfaces of the National, and it may pay, for once, to go along with the American dream. As ever, this contains two of their own slugging it out down the stretch, just as Woods and Mickelson did at Doral five weeks ago. Woods was the old Tiger that thrilling afternoon, and although Bay Hill and Sawgrass suggested that this may have been just a flash in the PGA, it's a brave judge who discounts the big cat in his natural habitat.

But, as strange as it seems, Mickelson appears even more suited to Augusta than his nemesis nowadays. Since ultimate control replaced unbridled spontaneity in the Mickelson mindset, his left-handedness is an undeniable advantage around here. While the righties face the blood-curdling task of turning over hard draws around the critical bends of the second, 10th and 13th holes, Mickelson can perfect the far easier soft-cuts. Interestingly as well, Woods's revamped swing favours him hitting more high fades, which has never been a recognised route around this hallowed piece of Deep South turf. Is golf's perennial pussycat about to storm the Tiger's lair?

This is the question currently obsessing the American sporting public, who are more oblivious than ever to the European challenge. Are they right to discount their Ryder Cup conquerors so quickly? Well, yes, they probably are. Padraig Harrington, the world No 6, is unquestionably the best shout, although his father's battle with inoperable cancer has understandably blunted his focus so much that he is still not a definite starter.

There is always Sergio Garcia to turn to, but at the Players Championship last week he appeared some distance still from discovering the mental stamina to last the full four rounds. What about Luke Donald, then, the glittering light of the young Europeans currently illuminating the world's top 50, who came so close last Sunday to victory at Sawgrass? He has a squeak, most definitely, of recording Britain's first major success since Paul Lawrie's Open, but this is the 27-year-old's first visit to this unique course which, anyway, is an un-ashamed bombers' paradise.

Where are the old favourites then? Colin Montgomerie - not here. Darren Clarke - game not here. Lee Westwood - putting game not here.

In contrast, Singh, Woods and Mickelson undoubtedly are here, and it would be as far away from a surprise as you can get to see the latter becoming only the fourth player to present himself with a Green Jacket. What is it they say about reigning knights in Georgia?

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