The Masters may still be a couple of months away but we got a glimpse of two possible contenders over the last few days as they swept to wins on the European and PGA Tours.
Sergio Garcia produced his usual magnificent golf to claim a commanding wire-to-wire victory at the Dubai Desert Classic, his first European Tour title for three years.
He and Henrik Stenson traded blows in a real ding-dong battle down the back nine, but Garcia effectively settled the contest at the 15th hole with the shot of the week.
With his lead trimmed to two shots following consecutive Stenson birdies, Garcia nailed an extremely difficult par three with a brilliant 200-yard tee-shot.
There was no room for margin whatsoever, but he couldn’t have hit it any better.
It was also encouraging to see Garcia putting so well.
He actually switched from the grip that worked so well for the first three days to a pencil grip for the final round, perhaps because it is one he feels more familiar with having used it for the past few years.
Either way, it shouldn’t be seen as a negative thing; it helped him to win.
Garcia’s previous win on the tour also came in the Gulf, at the Qatar Masters in 2014.
The extreme winds that caused a delay on Friday aside, the conditions in that part of the world are very similar to those he would be used to in Spain.
His victory comes a week after young compatriot Jon Rahm’s breakthrough win on the PGA Tour, and while a player like Garcia needs no inspiration, I’m sure he watched it with a lot of pride as the Spanish contingent are like a big family.
Garcia peak could still come
At 37, Garcia is at a different stage of his career to 22-year-old Rahm, but he is still playing as well as ever, especially now that he seems to have got the hang of his putting.
That elusive Major is still missing from his CV, but he is a long way off the twilight of his career.
Stenson won the Open last year aged 40, while Mark O’Meara’s two Major wins came in his forties.
Garcia’s peak may still be to come, although for now he won’t be looking any further that Augusta in eight weeks’ time.
Hatton continues strong start to 2017
Also showing promising signs in Dubai was Tyrrell Hatton, who recovered from four-putting the ninth during his first round to finish in a tie for third place, two shots behind Stenson.
It comes after the young Englishman’s strong display in Abu Dhabi last time out, where he led going into the last round, and makes for a positive start to the year.
Tragedy of Tiger's latest setback
By stark contrast, it was a hugely disappointing to see Tiger Woods withdraw after the first round in Dubai, citing back spasms.
He hadn’t looked right, walking down steps very gingerly, and sadly he is nowhere near back to his old self.
His former coach Butch Harmon said he thought Woods might even retire before the year was out.
It’s tragic. He is scheduled to return next week at the Genesis Open in California, so let’s see and hope for the best.
Marvellous Matsuyama playing like Woods of old
One man showing shades of the old Tiger, however, is Hideki Matsuyama, who continued his incredible start to the season by winning the Phoenix Open on Sunday.
Matsuyama now has five wins and two runner-up finishes in his last nine starts and, at 24, is already the most successful Japanese golfer on the PGA Tour.
When you think of some of his predecessors, that’s some feat, while that form is like the Woods of old.
He’s a wonderful driver, a long iron player and gets great ball flight, so his game is well suited to Augusta.
He’s that good, and things are certainly going his way, so he is a definite Masters contender.