Continued from page 1

If he had kept winning at the rate he did for 14 years, would anyone have noticed this crop of young players?

Rory McIlroy would still be up there,” Hunter Mahan said Tuesday. “But Tiger played a practice round and it made news. He’s chasing records whenever he plays. How are you not going to write about that? No offense to the young guys.”

Nick Watney also suggested that McIlroy, based on his sheer talent and eight-shot win at the U.S. Open, would get his fair share of attention even if Woods had kept winning a major a year, along with a half-dozen other titles.

“But he would be like Sergio was, like Adam Scott was, like whoever the media tabbed _ Charles Howell, at one point,” Watney said.

The question is whether Woods can get back.

The Chevron World Challenge, for an 18-man field in which everyone but the host _ Woods _ is among the top 50, figures to be a good benchmark. Woods has gone 26 official events without winning. He is coming off two strong weeks in Australia during which he hit the ball where he was aiming for nine rounds in windy conditions.

To win at Sherwood _ or even to be in contention _ would send expectations for 2012 higher than they have been in two years. But the road back doesn’t start until he’s posing with a trophy.

What happens then?

Only three players at Sherwood are older than Woods (Steve Stricker, Jim Furyk, K.J. Choi), so the challengers he faces around the world are all younger than they used to be. And while none of these guys has won more than three times in a year, they feel a lot better about themselves because no one else has won that much more.

That’s the Tiger effect.

“Golf is a very confidence-driven game,” Ogilvy said. “A lot of these players now have more confidence than if he was winning eight times a year. Because if a guy is winning eight times a year, even if you win three times, you don’t feel like you’re as good of a player because there’s someone who’s so much better than you.”

Donald is No. 1 by a wide margin, courtesy of his work ethic, consistently being in the top 10 and four wins around the world. But it’s not domination that golf saw for the better part of a dozen years.

Golf always has had its share of rising stars. It only looks as if there are more now because no one is that much better than anyone else.

(This version CORRECTS Corrects that Donald among seven players with two wins this year.)