Eight players from the top 20 in the world already have won this year.
"Augusta is always the most exciting event, just because it's the first major, a lot of exciting things are happening in golf, a lot of the big names are doing well," Donald said. "Tiger is making a mini-comeback. All of the pieces are falling into place."
Topping last year will be a tall order.
In one of the most exciting final rounds in Masters history, eight players had at least a share of the lead on the final day. Charl Schwartzel delivered a finish that matched the quality of the final round. He became the first Masters champion to close with four straight birdies for a two-shot win over Jason Day and Adam Scott.
There hasn't been this much anticipation about the Masters, and the leading characters, since 2005 when seven of the top 10 in the world had won tournaments going into the Augusta, including multiple wins for Woods, Mickelson and Ernie Els.
Woods ended up winning his fourth Masters. Not many could have imagined he would go six years without another. This year, however, might be as good of a chance as any.
He hardly practiced in 2010 after missing four months as his personal life caved in around him, yet Woods tied for fourth. He had not finished closer than seven shots all year in 2011, showed up at Augusta and nearly won again.
What happens when he is swinging well (which he is) and has more confidence (he does) than he has in three years?
His win at Bay Hill gave him 72 for his PGA Tour career, and someone mentioned to Woods that if he were to win the Masters, it would tie him with Nicklaus for second on the career list with 73 wins. Woods smiled when he heard the question. It's not the statistic most people associate with Nicklaus, least of all Woods.
"Yeah, well, that's nice," Woods said. "But I'm looking forward to more of the green jacket part of it."
The closest McIlroy ever got to the green jacket was on a private plane to Malaysia after the Masters, with Schwartzel on board. They posed for a picture, the South African in a green jacket.
It revealed a comfortable side of McIlroy, evidence that this would not crush his spirits, much less his career.
Then again, he showed that in the immediate aftermath of his meltdown. Woods shot 67 and could not get away from a TV interview quickly enough. McIlroy faced reporters in the locker room after his 80, looking everyone in the eye, making no excuses.
He returns as a U.S. Open champion. That four-shot lead he took into the last round a year ago now is looked upon as an example of what he can do, not what he didn't. What's new is the attention, the heir apparent to Woods.
"It will be very different," McIlroy said. "I wasn't necessarily under the radar last year, but I'll be going in there with a lot more attention, a lot of scrutiny, because of what happened last year. The spotlight will be on me, and it's something that I'll just have to deal with. But I'll try to ... approach it like I did last year — at least for three days, anyway."
The Masters will add a minor wrinkle for the opening round when Gary Player joins Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer as the honorary starters. Otherwise, the course has not changed significantly since last year, except for some new hole locations now available on the 16th green.
What has changed is the outlook.
Even as Woods was out for three straight months, and two majors, golf was being handed over to youth like McIlroy, Schwartzel, PGA champion Keegan Bradley, major champions Martin Kaymer and Louis Oosthuizen. It was in good hands.
And now, Woods is back to join them.