Practice began on 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 in 17 attempts 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, a US Open runner-up for the sixth time in June, captured his fifth major crown in July and is confident he knows Oak Hill well.
“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 won the 1980 PGA at Oak Hill, sees Woods and Mickelson as favourites but warns a lot of players could be in the hunt because the course will force golfers to change their games.
“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.”
Woods, whose 79 career PGA titles are three shy of Sam Snead’s all-time record, practiced Monday afternoon but planned light work until Wednesday, having seen the 7,163-yard 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.
“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 marveled at the dense rough and tight fairways.
“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.”
South Africa’s Ernie Els, a two-time US Open and two-time British Open winner, noted that avoiding the rough is only the first step to winning at Oak Hill.
“When you do hit the fairway you have got to make it count and make your share of putts,” Els said. “No one is going to hit every fairway so you have got to scramble well too.”
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 and joint second to Woods at the Bridgestone, could also be a contender this week.
“I’ve been out in the last group two times out of the last three weeks I’ve played,” Stenson said. “I’m getting used to being out last and playing well.”