For Woods and Mickelson, Medinah means everything
Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson have reduced the Big Five to the Big Two this year. Both roll into the PGA Championship eager to win a second 2006 major and make a definitive statement about who's the top player this year.
MEDINAH, Ill. (AP) -- The PGA Championship is known as "Glory's Last Shot,'' a reminder to the strongest field of all the Grand Slam events that this is the last chance of the year to capture a major championship.
For Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, it takes on a slightly different meaning.
Medinah is where they can make their last statement.
They have been the dominant players on the PGA Tour this year, reducing any notion of a Big Five to the definitive Big Two.
Mickelson won his second green jacket at the Masters, using two drivers as he dissected Augusta National and won comfortably by two shots. Woods collected his third claret jug at the British Open, his one driver more of a hood ornament than a weapon. He used it only once in 72 holes on the baked links of Royal Liverpool, winning by two shots.
In between, Geoff Ogilvy captured the U.S. Open, although Woods and Mickelson still managed to grab headlines -- Woods by missing the cut for the first time in a major, Mickelson by throwing away a chance at his third straight major by making double-bogey on the 18th hole at Winged Foot to lose by one.
In some respects, Medinah is for all the marbles.
A victory by either one likely would lock up player of the year. Mark O'Meara showed the value of two majors in 1998 when his Masters and British Open titles trumped David Duval winning four times and the money title.
The award would mean more to Mickelson because he never has won it in his 15 years on the PGA Tour, and it's been 10 years since he has had a chance as good as this one.
Woods, however, comes to Chicago with more confidence.
After taking two months off when his father died, then missing the cut at Winged Foot, Woods was nearly flawless at Hoylake in winning his 11th major championship. Two weeks later, he collected his 50th career title on the PGA Tour with a two-shot victory in the Buick Open, his fourth win this year.
But his work is not done.
"Having two World Golf Championships, the Tour Championship and a major championship ahead of us -- four big events -- anything can happen,'' Woods said. "Hopefully, I can get it done in those four events, especially in a couple of weeks.''
That was a reference to Medinah, a course that brings back good memories.
Seven years ago, Woods ended his longest drought in the majors with a one-shot victory in the PGA Championship. That set off an explosive romp that lasted three years, including a stretch when he won 18 of 36 tournaments and went 7-of-11 in majors.
It's too early to tell whether this latest round of swing changes has prepared him for another big run, but considering how his last two starts have gone, Woods is on a high.
"Playing the way I played the last two tournaments is a lot more satisfying than hitting it all over the lot and contending, and if you're lucky enough, to win the tournament,'' he said. "Playing this way is a lot more fun. A lot less stress, too.''
Mickelson's best two years were not good enough to be player of the year.
He won four times in 1996 -- remember, no majors until 2004 -- and was leading the money list until British Open champion Tom Lehman won the season-ending Tour Championship to claim the money title, and the vote for player of the year. In 2004, when Lefty broke through with his first major and went 1-2-3-6 in the majors, he was trumped by Vijay Singh and his nine victories.
His hope is to hoist the heavy Wanamaker Trophy on Sunday, although Mickelson isn't willing to look too far ahead in the race for player of the year.
"You're way ahead of me,'' said Mickelson, whose other victory this year was by 13 shots at the BellSouth Classic. "I have a couple of tournaments here, and I'm just trying to play well.''
Not to be forgotten is Ogilvy, the 29-year-old Aussie with no weakness and his first major. He didn't get much credit for winning at Winged Foot, especially with Mickelson and Colin Montgomerie each taking double bogey on the last hole. But he did get up-and-down for par on the final hole, and his credentials include a World Golf Championship for winning the WGC-Accenture Match Play title at La Costa in February.
But, going into the PGA Championship, even Ogilvy says it's all about Woods and Mickelson.
"I wouldn't vote for me at the moment,'' he said. "I would vote for Phil or Tiger at this point. Tiger at the British Open, and Phil's performance was impressive. I'd have to win the PGA or Firestone or The Tour Championship. It would have to be a really big one because I think Tiger would definitely be in front of me at the moment.''
Don't forget the other guys.
"Glory's Last Shot'' takes on a literal meaning for the likes of Jim Furyk, Ernie Els and Singh, all of whom would love to add to their collection of major titles; and for Sergio Garcia, Chris DiMarco and Adam Scott, all desperate for their first major.
Furyk also had a chance to win at Winged Foot until missing a 5-foot par putt on the 18th hole. He was two shots behind going into the last round at the British Open, stumbled early and never recovered on his way to a fourth-place finish.
Singh has only one victory this year (Barclays Classic) and has not been a serious factor at any of the majors. Els looked lifeless until a bold attempt at Royal Liverpool, holding his own against Woods while paired in the final group of the third round, before stalling in the fourth round to finish third. Even so, his hopes are high.
"I'm playing good, I'm swinging well,'' Els said at The International. "I haven't given too much thought to next week yet. I just want to play well this week and go into next week in a positive frame of mind.''
The PGA Championship has the strongest field of all the majors, limited only to professionals -- 131 tour pros and 25 PGA Professionals -- and usually getting about 90 of the top 100 from the world ranking.
All of them will face the longest course ever in a major championship, a record that seems to get broken by some major every year. Woods led the field in driving distance at Medinah in the '99 PGA Championship at 308.3 yards, the only player to average more than 300 yards that week. That probably won't be the case this time, not with so many big bashers on tour.
And it's a safe bet the head cover will come off Woods' driver more than once.
Medinah has been stretched to 7,561 yards and plays as a par 72. The humidity of late summer generally keeps the PGA Championship from playing as firm and fast as a U.S. Open.
Mickelson kept to his routine of studying every facet of Medinah during long practice sessions, just as he did at Augusta National, Winged Foot and Royal Liverpool.
The only surprise was the traffic at Medinah.
"There were a lot of guys over there,'' Mickelson said.
He has learned that knowing a course means nothing without good play. This being the final major of the year, Mickelson would like nothing better than for his game to hit its stride.
"There is never a secret,'' he said. "It always comes down to execution.''
Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved.