Much has been made of their often frosty relationship, but defending USPGA Champion Phil Mickelson has been full of praise for Tiger Woods in the build up to this year’s event and is looking forward to being grouped with the world number one and US Open Champion Geoff Ogilvy for the first two rounds at Medinah later this week.
Mickelson (pictured after securing last year’s USPGA at Baltusrol) won his second Masters title at Augusta in April this year, while Woods clinched his third Open title at Royal Liverpool last month. Now the stage is set for the traditional grouping of the season’s Major winners at the USPGA Championship just outside Chicago. It is a trio that will no doubt attract enormous galleries and, despite his poor showing at last week’s Internatonal where he missed his first cut of the season, Mickelson is confident that he can show his best form.
“I was disappointed to miss the cut last week as I’ve realised that playing four rounds before a Major is my ideal way to prepare,” the world number two said on Monday.
“We all need to find out what allows us to play our best golf and it’s different for each player. I like to play the tournament the week before, and by doing so I can stay in a competitive frame of mind that can be carried over to Thursday’s opening round. A lot of players like to take the week off before a Major and spend three or four days playing practice rounds. I prefer to play competitive golf, which is why I was so disappointed to miss the cut last week.”
Mickelson admitted that the lengthened Medinah course will provide a stern test for players off the tee. Its new total yardage of 7,561 yards is a record for a Major championship.
“It’s going to be very important to keep the ball in play, but you can’t do it with irons as the course is so long,” he predicted.
“You’ve got to drive your golf ball well and driving 300 yards and keeping it between a 25 yard fairway is a very small miss. You don’t have much margin for error. It’s intimidating, especially with the recovery shot, and the greens are very tough.”
Mickelson also conceded that Woods will be the man to beat. The world number one has won his last two tournaments – the Open and the Buick – and he starts the tournament as the overwhelming favourite to win his third USPGA Championship. Woods also has a good record on the course. His first USPGA victory in 1999 also took place at Medinah.
“The ten-year career that Tiger has had deserves the respect of all players,” Mickelson said.
“He is the number one player in the world and is always the man to beat, I would never question that. But I’ve had a lot of fun being able to compete head-to-head against him and all the other players on Tour. There’s a lot of strong talent out there.”