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Big names colliding at Doral

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DORAL, Fla. – Imagine the possibilities: tee sheets riddled with more intrigue than an episode of “Grim” and enough volatility to set the World Golf Ranking on its side, again.

Imagine the possibilities if the math and mojo lineup. It’s happened here before, back when Doral was more South Beach than Sawgrass. Before the WGC cut Doral’s field in half and turned a true South Florida soiree into something a little more sterile.

In Cliff’s Note form, No. 2-ranked Tiger Woods went into the final round of the 2005 Ford Championship two strokes adrift of No. 4 Phil Mickelson, they turned all square, Woods pulled away with a birdie at the 17th and Lefty’s chip at the last that would have forced a playoff lipped out. Pandemonium ensued.

For good measure, No. 1 Vijay Singh finished tied for third place in 2005 but it wasn’t enough to keep Woods at bay and the Fijian slipped to No. 2 in the world.

It was as good as golf gets this side of Magnolia Lane.

These type of events rarely go to script and no matter how hard the PGA Tour contrives, there is no way to ensure magic. But on the eve of the year’s second World Golf Championship it’s impossible not to imagine the possibilities.

In order, Thursday’s tee sheet at Doral features an in-form Woods and Mickelson, a newly crowned world No. 1 and enough ranking points to allow for another overhaul of the world order on Sunday if the tumblers fall as prescribed.

Per custom, world Nos. 1, 2 and 3 will set out together on Thursday and it is a measure of how much subtext is swirling through the South Florida air this week that it’s not even the day’s most-compelling three-ball.

That honor belongs to Woods, who will play with defending champion Nick Watney and Sergio Garcia. Or maybe it’s Mickelson who tees off with WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship winner Hunter Mahan and Adam Scott.

It’s all enough to make reporters forget about Hank Haney’s impending book on Woods, at least temporarily.

In the last month Mickelson outdueled Woods, among others, at Pebble Beach and finished runner-up at Northern Trust Open, Woods closed with a 62 on Sunday at the Honda Classic for his best Tour finish (T-2) since 2009 and Rory McIlroy overtook Luke Donald atop the World Ranking with his win at PGA National.

“We have not had somebody play to the level of Tiger and so now we have four, five, six guys that are battling for the No. 1 spot it seems like monthly,” Mickelson said. “I don’t know where it will all settle.”

It doesn’t seem likely the ranking roulette will end any time soon with little let up in most players schedules through the Masters. Woods and Mickelson will play Bay Hill before the year’s first major, while McIlroy has planned a three-week hiatus before arriving at Augusta National which promises to only add to the ranking volatility.

Paul Casey has spent the last two months on the DL coming to grips with his inner couch potato following a snowboarding accident that dislocated his right shoulder. He doesn’t cherish the role of spectator but, all things considered, he picked an interesting time to become a bystander.

“I actually watched. I watched (Northern Trust), I watched the Match Play. Watched a bunch of stuff in the Middle East,” Casey said. “I’ve never done that before. It was very inspiring to watch and sort of thinking, I’ve won Abu Dhabi.”

But if the stars seem aligned for a Duel at Doral II, Woods sidestepped the hopeful hyperbole on Wednesday, pointing out that only the names on the tee sheet have changed, not the stakes.

“I’ve been in the same situation before,” Woods cautioned. “It was Vijay (Singh), myself, Phil and Ernie were all going at it for a number of years. So now it’s just a different crop of guys.”

Better than anyone Woods knows the dangers of unrealistic expectations. Despite the litany of intriguing story lines this week fate remains undefeated. In 2005 it took more than just opportunity to deliver a historic Sunday and karma, not ranking math or recent form, has the ultimate vote.

Still, considering this week’s lineup it’s easy to imagine the possibilities.