UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. -- In a perfect U.S. Open world, Tiger Woods will leave Chambers Bay later this week with his 15th major championship. He'll kiss the trophy, kiss off his many critics, and if we're lucky, we'll never have to hear again about glutes firing, the "process" or swing patterns in chaos.
In the next-best perfect U.S. Open world, Phil Mickelson will leave Chambers Bay later this week with the one major that has eluded and tormented him throughout his career. He'll kiss the trophy, kiss his wife, Amy, and then over-tip the locker room attendants (hundos for everyone!).
And in the next-best U.S. Open scenario -- well, there is no next-best scenario, right? That's the conventional wisdom: Nobody moves the golf needle like Tiger and Phil. They're "Game of Thrones," and the rest of the field is an infomercial for scalp care.
It's true; Woods and Lefty are the Camrys of golf. They're the people's choices. If they matter, golf matters. At least that's how it's always been.
Woods turns 40 at the end of the year and hasn't won a major since the 2008 U.S. Open. Mickelson turns 45 on Tuesday and last won in 2013 (the Open Championship). By any metric, by any logical or reasonable analysis, they are on the wrong side of their careers. That doesn't mean they won't or can't win again (they will, by the way), but the sweet spots of their games continue to shrink.
There comes a tipping point for every great player. They become mortal again. It happened to Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Johnny Miller, Seve Ballesteros, Greg Norman, Nick Faldo, Ernie Els ... and now Woods and Mickelson.
Golf doesn't care. It moves forward. It evolves. It might not find the next Tiger or Phil, but it finds someone to raise a trophy and cash the check.
Selfishly, I'm rooting for the best story, and there would be no better U.S. Open story than Woods somehow gluing his game back together this week and winning a major. If it happens (please, golf gods?), it would rival the sheer audacity of what Nicklaus did by winning the 1986 Masters at age 46.
A Mickelson major victory wouldn't be as surprising (his previous two: T-2 at the Masters, second at the PGA Championship), but it might be as satisfying. Mickelson and the U.S. Open have a hate/hate relationship. It is the only major he hasn't won, and the only major to tease him with a record six second-place finishes. If he won this week, there'd be a group hug with the gallery on No. 18.
But if Woods or Mickelson doesn't win, there's still plenty to like about this major and this sport.
I could live with a Jordan Spieth victory. He would become the first player since 2002 to win a Masters and a U.S. Open in the same year. And he's only 21. As an added bonus, when he took his hat off, we'd get to see him do that thing with his hair again.
I could live with a Rory McIlroy victory. Nothing wrong with seeing the world No. 1 win his fifth career major, and three out of the past four.
I could live with a Rickie Fowler victory. It would be his first major win (after four top-five finishes in them a year ago) and he could tag-team it with his 2015 Players Championship title. Plus, just think of the post-U.S. Open kiss he'd plant on girlfriend Alexis Randock (Google the post-Players kiss; it's historic).
I could live with an Adam Scott victory. It would be Scott's second major victory and caddie Steve Williams' 15th.
I could live with a Bubba Watson victory. Bubba loves the Masters, but he usually talks himself out of winning a U.S. Open or Open Championship. His eight U.S. Open appearances: four missed cuts, a T-5, T-18, T-63, T-32.
I could live with an Ian Poulter victory. Wouldn't it be hilarious if Poulter won his first major (and first stroke-play title in the United States) at a course he mocked on Twitter?
I could live with a Sergio Garcia victory. Garcia has played in 63 consecutive majors (and 66 in all) and has taken the victory oh-fer.
I could live with a Dustin Johnson victory. Then again, it would be a lot more fun if he won his first major two months from now at the PGA Championship (look up Whistling Straits, bunker on No. 18, 2-stroke penalty).
One way or another, the U.S. Open and golf are going to be fine. But for old time's sake, how about something we all could live with: a Tiger vs. Phil Monday playoff.