By Steve Silverman
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The PGA Championship is clearly the fourth of golf’s four major championships.
Some go on and on about the Masters and the beauty of the Augusta golf course that basically starts the serious part of the golf season.
However, that tournament is simply not as important as the U.S. Open, simply the toughest test of golf of the year.
The British Open has to be respected as well. The game of golf got started on the other side of the Atlantic and that championship pays homage to the sport’s origins.
The PGA simply does not carry the same weight as the other three, even if it is a major. But this year, the PGA may turn out to be the best of all the majors and perhaps the most memorable golf event in years.
This year, the PGA pits the game’s two prime heavyweights against each other when both are at the top of their game.
Phil Mickelson has enjoyed a stellar year, winning three tournament overall, including the British Open as a result of a blazing final round that saw him shoot 66 while all others who had a chance couldn’t break par.
Mickelson, who had stumbled on links courses prior to this year, played his best golf when the pressure was highest.
Tiger Woods has been the best player on the tour this season. He was second to Rory McIlroy a year ago, but Woods has been at the top all by himself this season. When Woods whipped the field at the legendary Firestone Country Club in Akron last week — as he picked up a seven-stroke victory in the Bridgestone Invitational — he had that look of indomitability that many golf fans have wanted to see for several years.
Woods has won five tournaments this year, but none of them have been majors. He has been stalled at 14 major championships since winning the 2008 U.S. Open in a memorable playoff with Rocco Mediate, but he has been held off the board since then.
There’s no earthly reason why Woods shouldn’t have his game together when he tees off at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester on Thursday morning. While he may not be perfect with his driver, the rest of his game is in stellar shape. He simply does not miss with his irons, and if he can drop a few putts early, he could put on another show.
When Woods is on, most of his fellow competitors are intimidated. None would admit it, but even solid top-10 golfers seem to lose their confidence when Woods is on.
Mickelson is not one of them. For years, he disappointed under the bright lights of the majors, but that’s no longer part of his makeup. He has won three of the four majors — only the U.S. Open continues to elude him — and he is almost always a threat.
When Mickelson steps up to the tee, he is no longer the reckless player who will take too many chances. Mickelson will go for it when he needs to catch up, but if he has the lead he is not likely to give away strokes carelessly any longer.
What golf fans want, and have every reason to expect, is a Sunday duel between Mickelson and Woods.
If it happens, it will be the water-cooler subject du jour on Monday morning. It will be reminiscent of Jack vs. Arnie, Ali vs. Frazier and Borg vs. McEnroe. We knew those legends, and all of them grew in stature because their rivalries played out on the grandest stages.
If both players are at their best in the final round, it will be sports theater of the best kind.
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