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It's time for the stars to shine again

In describing what it means to him to play in the Masters, David Duval said, "There's certainly a sacredness, if you will, to this event."

It was a different way to say what has so often been said, an awkward but eloquent way to summarize the championship that begins today on some of golf's most hallowed ground, Augusta National Golf Club.

May the best man win, but there are those of us who wouldn't mind seeing this sacred championship reclaimed by one of the elite of the elite. It's been awhile and we've missed it.

Perhaps this year we will drape the champion's green jacket over the shoulders of a true star again, someone who looks as right in this place as the pines and the flowering shrubs and the creek that ambles through it, someone who will make a lasting memory. It's time.

All respect and glory to anyone who can win a Masters. Everybody loves an underdog. But major championships are defined by the legends on the roll of champions. It is the history authored by the great ones, Sarazen and Hogan and Nicklaus and Woods and their kind, that echoes around the fairways, telling us we are in a place filled with wonders.

Without the gods of the game, the Masters would be just another tour stop.

Here at Augusta National, they name bridges in honor of the great ones, or put plaques out there to celebrate them. A song has been written about the place. Clubs from winning sets are displayed on the clubhouse walls. The hills and valleys are wreathed in memories of heroic feats. Everything about the place and the championship says that this is where the stars should shine brightest.

Over the last three years, though, we've had winners whose names fail to stir the soul. Zach Johnson won in 2007 playing safe golf, never going for the green in two on a par-5. Four months after surgery, Trevor Immelman came back to score a heartwarming win in the 2008 Masters, but, slowed by injury, he has not won since. Last year, Angel Cabrera won his second major but without much sizzle, just an ugly finish that had all the style of a train wreck.

A far better show that Sunday was a shootout between playing partners Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson up ahead of the leaders, a dream pairing for us star gazers. They started the final round seven shots out of the lead but, pulling an enormous gallery behind them, blitzed their way into contention before running out of birdies. After that, it all seemed a bit anticlimactic.

This three-year run by the supporting cast followed a seven-year burst in which Woods won three times, Mickelson won twice and Vijay Singh won once. That's some serious star shine there. It's time for some more.

Any of five men could bring it back this week: Woods. Mickelson. Singh. Ernie Els. . Padraig Harrington. Make that seven, with an asterisk. Tom Watson and Fred Couples are seniors now, but Watson almost won the British Open last year and Couples is hitting it as far as he ever did and putting better perhaps than he ever did. If either of those two, both popular figures, should win, the joy would be so great we might hear choirs of angels singing.

The ideal scenario would be Woods and Mickelson paired again on Sunday, battling it out for the championship, the way Hogan and Nelson did and Hogan and Snead did and Palmer and Nicklaus did and Player and Nicklaus did, when they were making the Masters what it is. Giving it some star shine again.