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AUGUSTA, GA. - The time has gone where it always goes.

Peter Uihlein, the 21-year-old U.S. Amateur champion, was asked about his first Masters tournament memory.

"The first time I remember watching it was Tiger in '97," Uihlein said.

He was seven.

Only 37 of Tiger Woods' 98 competitors in this tournament are older than he (35).

Only 17 of the contestants in '97, when Tiger erased statistical and cultural barriers with his 12-shot victory, are playing in the 75th Masters that begins Thursday morning.

The question here is whether times have moved or really changed.

Woods and Phil Mickelson have won six of the past 10 Masters. Mickelson, 40, recaptured the favorite's slot when he won at Houston last week.

Woods has not finished higher than fourth in a tournament since something went bump in his Isleworth driveway two Thanksgivings ago.

But one of those fourth places was here, last year, five shots behind Mickelson's winning total of 16-under-par 272.

"It's a different ballgame," Woods said Tuesday. "Young guys are transforming our sports with the power and the transition. They are doing things no one has ever seen on tour before, and it's great to see."

Woods was specifically referring to Gary Woodland, who, with Woods by his side, smoked a 335-yard drive at Bay Hill and was peeved that he couldn't carry it 340.

Woods shook his head.

"Sorry, I had never seen that shot," he said. "It's no problem for me to hit over 300 yards but these guys can [fly it] 320. Their ball is landing after mine is finished bouncing."

Woods is an incredible 67th in driving distance this year and 191st in hitting fairways. His world ranking has dwindled to seventh. He has four rounds in the 60s among his 12 PGA Tour rounds.

"You can't count him out," Ian Poulter said recently, then catalogued all the ways Woods couldn't win here without sudden improvement.

"Poulter's always right, isn't he?" Woods replied.

Certainly the sight of Woods no longer ties Windsor knots in the stomachs of the field. He has not won a major since the 2008 U.S. Open, which was a knee operation and several other events ago.

Germany's Martin Kaymer, the PGA champ, is the world's No. 1, although he hasn't made a Masters cut. Other smart money is going to Dustin Johnson, the inordinately powerful 26-year-old.

Bubba Watson has the creativity and the length to make a run here, and the Georgia alum would be an instant fan favorite if he did.

Nobody on the 2011 tour has outplayed Nick Watney, whose worst finish is 13th in six events. He won Doral against a top-50 field, but some remember the nervous 81 he posted when he was the 54-hole leader at the 2010 PGA.

Mickelson had not been a factor for almost a year as he battled with rheumatoid arthritis and continued to minister to his wife, Amy, who continues to fight breast cancer.

However, Mickelson has become Augusta's new viceroy, with victories in '04, '06 and last year. He is 61 under par here since 2001.

Last year he shot a 67 with no bogeys on the back nine to run down Lee Westwood.

He also won thoughtfulness points when he ordered paella and other Spanish dishes for Tuesday night's champions dinner, a tribute to the ailing Seve Ballesteros.

The course welcomes Mickelson's adventurous nature. His caddie, Jim (Bones) McKay, calls it "Phil's playground."

"The great thing is, whether there's a first cut or not, you always have a shot and a lie that you can do something with," Mickelson said. "Sometimes you take on a lot of risk, [but] you seem to have an opportunity to recover.

"And maybe it's just me, but there seems to be a lot of recovery shots here," he said, prompting laughter.

A deep and ambitious European roster, including Poulter, Luke Donald, Graeme McDowell, Rory McIlroy and Paul Casey also senses an opening, although Jose Maria Olazabal is the last previous European winner ('99).

And maybe all this youth will be wasted on the young.

When 22-year-old Rickie Fowler came into the interview room wearing his cap backward, Augusta National member Ron Townsend firmly told him to wear it the conventional way.

"Forward?" Fowler asked incredulously.

Forward we go, marching with time, and waiting to see if Tiger is supple enough to jump onto a leader board, and whether the game changes then.