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Golfing greats set for PGA duel

Tiger Woods is the favourite at the 95th PGA Championship at Oak Hill, but a resurgent Phil Mickelson has other ideas.

Last Modified: 05 Aug 2013 18:31
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Woods’ triumph at Firestone Country Club on Sunday suggests the world number one is in top form [AFP]

World number one Tiger Woods and new British Open champion Phil Mickelson are on a collision course, fighting for the year's last major golf crown at the 95th PGA Championship.

Practice began Monday at Oak Hill Country Club with Woods coming off a seven-stroke triumph at the World Golf Championships Bridgestone Invitational, his eighth triumph at Firestone Country Club, and Mickelson still enjoying last month's British Open win at Muirfield.

"When Phil and I have battled, it has been in big events and we've shot some pretty good rounds together and against each other," Woods said.

Woods, a 14-time major winner chasing the all-time record of 18 majors won by Jack Nicklaus, has not won a major title since the 2008 US Open but says he feels no extra urgency to win the last major before his 38th birthday.

"As far as wanting it more than any other, no. It's the same," Woods said.

"Those are the events that we try and peak for and win. Each and every major, I always want them. I've been successful 14 times and hopefully (this) will be 15."

Mickelson confident

Mickelson, a US Open runner-up for the sixth time in June, captured his fifth major crown and second victory of the year in July and is confident his game is near its peak at Oak Hill.

"I've studied the golf course," Mickelson said.

"I know exactly how I'm going to play it. I just need to get my game sharp now."

Nicklaus, who set the Oak Hill course record of six-under par 174 in winning the 1980 PGA, expects that mark to fall this week despite dense rough and tough greens.

"The player has got to suit his game to the golf course," Nicklaus said.

"Mickelson will adapt well to it. Tiger will adapt well to it."

When it comes to picking a favourite, Nicklaus says: "You would be pretty hard pressed not to make (Woods) one of the favourites, if not the favourite."

But he added that Mickelson "would have to be the favourite going into the PGA on the record he has played. He is playing awfully well".

Woods plans light work until Wednesday, having seen Oak Hill in a practice round last Tuesday.

"Basically I'll just try and get a feel for the golf course and how it's playing," Woods said.

"Oak Hill is going to be a golf course where we're going to have to make a lot of pars. If you have an opportunity to make a birdie, you had better because there aren't a whole lot of opportunities to make them.

"The rough was already up when I played it on Tuesday. It has another week of getting thicker and more lush. I think it will be a very, very difficult championship."

Mickelson warned that players need to be short of the greens and below the hole for the best chance at making putts and also marvelled at the dense rough.

"You've got to hit fairways," Mickelson said.

"The rough is extremely long and thick, as long and thick a rough as I've seen in a long time."

Different swing

The last time Woods won by more than six strokes the week before a major was in 2007 at Firestone, just ahead of his PGA Championship title at Southern Hills.

"I had a totally different golf swing back then compared to now," Woods said.

"Performance-wise, yeah. Scoring-wise, yeah. But for me it's hard to relate because it's a totally different emotion."

Defending champion Rory McIlroy, who has struggled most of the season, is among those who intend to spoil the Tiger-Phil showdown scenario.

"My game doesn't feel too far away," McIlroy said. "It's obviously not where I want it to be, but it's not a million miles away."

Sweden's Henrik Stenson, runner-up at the British Open, could also contend this week.

"I was one of the guys in the mix there and I felt comfortable," Stenson said.

"I've been out in the last group two times out of the last three weeks I've played. I'm getting used to being out last and playing well."

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AFP
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