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Tiger Woods ‘pushed' Phil Mickelson to succeed, cost Ernie Els ‘a couple more’ majors

Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els celebrate their 100th major start by talking about — who else? — Tiger Woods.

Tiger Woods will once again be absent from a major championship this weekend, but the winner of 14 of those events was, as always, a topic of conversation as his colleagues prepared for the eighth straight elite tourney without the sidelined superstar.

Those colleagues, on Tuesday — two 40-something guys, each of whom will start his 100th major on Thursday at Quail Hollow — teed it up a few times with the 41-year-old Woods when all three were in their heydays, and fielded a curious query about their missing nemesis during a joint press conference ahead of the PGA Championship.

The question inquiring minds wanted to know was whether each multiple-major winner (five for Lefty, The Big Easy has four) would have chalked up a boatload more of such titles if Tiger had eschewed golf for another sport. Phil offered a perfectly diplomatic Mickelsonian response, praising Woods for helping him get the most out of his abilities, while Ernie wondered what might have been.

“I feel as though had Tiger not come around, I don’t feel I would have pushed myself to achieve what I ended up achieving, because he forced everybody to get the best out of themselves. He forced everybody to work a little bit harder,” Mickelson said. “He forced everybody to look at fitness as a big part of the game of golf, and I think that’s actually helped me with longevity … trying to stay flexible … to elongate the career. And I feel like that’s been a big part of it and he was a big influence on that.

“So I don’t think I would have had the same level of success had he not come around,” Mickelson summed up.

Els supplied the usual “Thanks, Tiger” remark but veered into less politically correct territory in his reply.

“I had quite a few run-ins with him in majors. It wasn’t really very close, but I finished second to him many times,” said Els. “Personally, I could have obviously won a couple more, but as Phil says, this guy was so special, he’s so special, and he absolutely changed the game. He got us to really elevate our games, brought so much more attention to the sport, and obviously a lot more dollars to play for. So we’ve got to thank him.

“But, you know,” Els said with a smile, “I could have had a couple more, definitely, without him around.”