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Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson should be major factors in PGA Championship

U.S. Open - Round Two

U.S. Open - Round Two

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When : Thursday-Sunday.

Site: Oak Hill Country Club, Rochester, N.Y.

Defending champion: Rory McIlroy. Length:

7,163 yards. Par: 70.

TV: Thursday and Friday, noon to
6 p.m., TNT. Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., TNT; 1 p.m. to
6 p.m., Ch. 2.

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Updated: September 9, 2013 2:58PM

PITTSFORD, N.Y. — When the 95th PGA Championship begins Thursday, we all will be focused on Tiger and Phil. That’s unavoidable and understandable.

They’re the 1 and 1A favorites, as well as guys who are readily identifiable by their first names and their singularly outstanding games.

But the truth is, in golf, it’s about the guy who’s playing the best that week.

Three of the last four PGA winners were first-time major champions. Three of the last five British Open winners never had won a major. The last three Masters winners were first-time major champions. And the last five U.S. Open champions never had won a major before.

Some, notably Rory McIlroy and Keegan Bradley, have validated their major success. Others, such as Adam Scott and Bubba Watson, have major skills.

But many of the champions — Webb Simpson, Y.E. Yang and Darren Clarke, to name a few — were simply guys who happened to bring their A-games.

That said, there are plenty of reasons to think Woods and/or Mickelson can play their best this week at Oak Hill.

Woods is coming off a stellar seven-stroke victory at Firestone — his fifth triumph of the season — that makes him the front-runner for player of the year.

Mickelson has three victories and would snatch player-of-the-year honors from Woods with a second major victory this week.

If Tiger and Phil do manage to be in the hunt Sunday, it will be a clash of styles.

‘‘Having Tiger win last week is great,’’ said Mickelson, who is loose enough to kid around, ‘‘because I can’t remember the last time somebody won the week before a major and then went on and won.’’

Mickelson won the British Open last month after winning the Scottish Open the previous week.

Woods, 37, is playing especially clenched these days as he tries to break his five-year major drought. The intensity practically pours out of him That’s probably not the easiest way to stand over a 10-foot putt, but it has been good for 14 major victories.

‘‘I lift every day,’’ Woods said when asked about his major-week preparation. ‘‘Try and stay strong and explosive and flexible and be ready. I just think that physical fitness over the long haul is key. You just never get tired. When you hear a guy saying, ‘I got tired coming down the stretch,’ that’s hard to imagine.’’

Mickelson, now 43, clearly works out, too. But his approach seems more easygoing, more thoughtful.

That’s especially true after his British Open victory. If he can break through at the U.S. Open, where he has finished second six times, he’ll join an elite group that has won all four majors.

One reason to favor Phil this week is that he finally is understanding he can save the fancy stuff for outings and patiently make the high-percentage play, the way he did last month at Muirfield.

‘‘One of the things I like to do in a major is make golf more of a reactionary sport, where I try to see the shot and just react to it without overthinking it,’’ Mickelson said. ‘‘Certainly at the British Open, coming down the back nine, that’s exactly what was happening. I was just trying to see the shot and create it without thinking about mechanics or what-not because you have so much running through your head that you want to try to simplify it as much as you can.’’

Pressure complicates things for stars such as Tiger and Phil. That’s a big reason fresh faces have been enjoying major success.


Twitter: @HerbGould

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