ROCHESTER — Phil Mickelson says playing against Tiger Woods brings out the best in him and that he wants a showdown with both men at their best at the 95th PGA Championship.
“I’m as motivated as ever to compete and to play and get the best golf out of me, to hopefully play against Tiger when he’s playing his best,” Mickelson said Tuesday.
“That would ultimately be the goal. If I can play as well as I can at the same time he’s doing the same, I would love that opportunity.”
It could come starting today at Oak Hill in the year’s final major tournament, where world number one Woods and second-ranked Mickelson are heavy favorites.
Woods (37) has won 14 major titles, but has not won a major since the 2008 US Open even though he has taken five PGA victories this year, including last week when he won his eighth Bridgestone Invitational title at Firestone.
Mickelson (43) is coming off his fifth major victory at last month’s British Open and his sixth runner-up finish at the US Open, the only major he has never won, in June. The three-time Masters winner took his lone PGA Championship in 2005 at Baltusrol.
“I’ve always been a competitive person, whether it’s competing head-to-head with Tiger or anybody else,” Mickelson said.
“I’m more motivated than ever to work hard to succeed because I can taste some of my best golf coming out. I can feel it. That has motivated me to continue to work hard and enjoy it and I’m enjoying it more than I ever have.”
Left-hander Mickelson says Woods brings out the best in his golf game by being his most challenging rival.
“Certainly, my record doesn’t stand up to what he’s done in the game. It’s just incredible what he’s accomplished with the number of wins, the number of majors and the consistency that he’s shown throughout his career,” Mickelson said.
“But in the last five or six years, I’ve had some pretty good success head-to-head and I feel like he brings out the best golf in me. He’s a great motivator for me. He has helped me work hard. He has helped me put forth the effort to try to compete at the highest level year-in and year-out and I’ve loved competing against him. He has really brought the best out of me.”
Asked to describe the relationship between himself and Mickelson, Woods opted to give details on how long they have played together on the once-a-year US team events, the Ryder and President Cups, rather than reveal any personal feelings.
“Phil and I have certainly battled in a few majors and a few tournaments here and there,” Woods said. “We’ve gotten to know each other over the years by being on these teams each and every year.”
While the biggest public Woods-Mickelson memory from team play is the glare Woods gave Mickelson after an errant tee shot by the lefty when they were paired together at the 2004 Ryder Cup, Mickelson said they have fun together.
“We have a lot more fun together than I think is realised, especially in the team events,” Mickelson said. “We’ve been partners in the ping pong room and we’ve done quite well together. We have good little banter on the bus rides. We’ve gotten along really well in the team environments.”
While Woods is chasing the all-time record of 18 major titles won by Jack Nicklaus, Mickelson is chasing a career Grand Slam, lacking only the elusive US Open.
“I don’t have a specific number that I want to end my career. I would really like to have won all four,” Mickelson said. “I’ll be putting in extra effort every year now for that particular event, especially.”
Mickelson said improved putting and tee shots have lifted his game to another level.
“I feel as though I started to play my best golf in the last four, five, six months,” he said. “I’ve keyed in on two areas that I’ve struggled with for years, which is putting and off the tee. I feel very confident in my ability to get the ball in play off the tee and on the greens now. I feel like now the major championships are possibly the easiest ones for me to be in contention and maybe even win, because of those weaknesses becoming strengths.”
Winning the Claret Jug made Mickelson see himself differently.
“The British Open really changed some of my perception of myself as a player,” he said. “Had I won another green jacket, that would not have done the same thing as what winning the Claret Jug has done.
It’s an accomplishment in my career that proves I’ve become more of a complete player.”