Phil Mickelson, his sights set on winning major championship No. 6, would like nothing more than what most golf fans are itching for -- a shootout with Tiger Woods in Sunday’s final round of the PGA Championship.
Phil vs. Tiger, Tiger vs. Phil. With both guys playing well and entering their final major of the season with a victory each in the last two weeks, the rivalry between the world’s two top-ranked players has been The Topic of conversation at Oak Hill.
That was fine with Mickelson, who talked Tuesday about his friendship with Woods and said he looked forward to a potential duel with No. 1 down the stretch in the finale.
"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 told reporters. "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."
Mickelson, who won his first British Open seven days after capturing the Scottish Open for the first time, joked that he enjoyed seeing Woods earn his 79th PGA Tour victory at Firestone last Sunday because the chances of him going back-to-back were so remote.
"I think that having Tiger win last week is great," Lefty deadpanned, "because I can't remember the last time somebody won the week before a major and then went on and won."
Mickelson, understandably, battled fatigue at the WGC-Bridgestone Championship after hoisting the Claret Jug just a week earlier. He intimated that he would not be heartbroken to come up short on Sunday since he already owned one Wanamaker Trophy.
Indeed, with Woods going for major title No. 15 this week, Mickelson said his goal was not to win a specific number of majors; rather, he would focus his energies on accomplishing his own Phil Slam.
"Right now, just six," the five-time major champion said about the number of big events he hoped to attain. "I don't think it's any surprise, because I've mentioned it, that I would really like to have won all four, and I'm one leg away here with the U.S. Open....I'll be putting in extra effort every year now for that particular event, especially. That would be the one thing that I think is fairly obvious. But there's not a specific number."
Adding another green jacket to his wardrobe, Mickelson said, would lack the cache of winning his country’s national championship. Emerging victorious on a links course overhauled his view of his own career.
"The British Open really changed some of my perception of myself as a player," he said. "It is an accomplishment in my career that makes me more of a complete player...for the simple reason that that style of golf, I have not had much success with over the past 20 years that I've played professionally.
"I've finished second and third there just twice out of 20 events, and to finally have won that and break through and play some of my best golf ever in my final round," Mickelson said, "that kind of changes the way I view myself and my game, more so than just a major championship that I had already won."
All of which is not to say that Phil, who offered that his competitive juices flowed as much as they ever have, won’t give it his all once the bell rings on Thursday. In fact, the 43-year-old believes he has yet to reach the peak of his abilities.
"I feel as though I started to play my best golf in the last four or five, six months," he said. "I feel like 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 I feel very confident in my ability on the greens now, where I've turned weaknesses into strengths, and this serves me well in major championships."
Mickelson credited Woods with helping him get to the top of his game.
"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."
Woods has spurred Mickelson to work harder and "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's really brought the best out of me, especially when we've been paired together," Mickelson added, "and I hope that we are able to play together for many more years."
Mickelson also went on the record saying that, despite their "intense" rivalry, he and Tiger were great table-tennis buddies.
"We have a lot more fun together than I think is realized, especially in the team events," he said. "We've been partners in the ping‑pong room and we've done quite well together as partners. We have good little banter on the bus rides. We've gotten along really well in the team environments."
Friendships sparked during Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup events were special to him, Mickelson averred.
"Whether it's with Tiger or the young guys or the older players that are out here, those relationships really form and last a career during those team events," he said.