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Golf: Mickelson confident, Tiger hungry, Rory mellow at PGA

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Phil Mickelson is buoyed by a British Open win, Tiger Woods is hungry after a five-year major drought and Rory McIlroy is trying to defend his title at the PGA Championship.

Golf's top stars gather next week at Oak Hill Country Club for the 95th edition of the final major tournament of the year after a season that has brought disappointment, a measure of success and more than a few surprises.

Mickelson captured his fifth career major title two weeks ago at Muirfield and the 43-year-old American left-hander says he is playing well enough to add another Wanamaker Trophy to the one he captured in 2005.

"I'm playing as well as I ever have and want to make sure I stay focused because I think there's an opportunity to add to this year and make this year every bit as special as it can be," Mickelson said.

"I want to make sure I give myself every chance to play well because I've been playing some of my best golf the last few months, as you've seen and as the results have shown. And I'm excited about these upcoming events."

Woods, a 14-time major champion chasing the all-time record of 18 majors won by Jack Nicklaus, is trying to end a five-year span without a major. His last major title came at the 2008 US Open at Torrey Pines.

"In that spell where I haven't won since Torrey, I've been in there," Woods said. "It's not like I've lost my card and not been playing out here.

"I've won some tournaments in that stretch and I've been in probably about half the majors on the back nine on Sunday with a chance to win during that stretch. I just haven't done it yet."

Woods has finished in the top six in nine of his 17 major starts since that US Open victory, but this major is on a course where he produced his second-worst 72-hole pro major result, a share of 39th at the 2005 PGA Championship that was won by Shaun Micheel.

And Woods found Oak Hill's greens relatively slow during an early practice round, the same sort of greens that foiled his final-round British Open bid.

"The greens are spotty," Woods said. "They just don't have a lot of grass on them. It'll be interesting to see what they do for the tournament and how much they're able to speed them up with kind of a lack of grass."

A severe storm last month damaged some bunkers, toppled a tree and flooded seven holes at Oak Hill, which has seen several holes lengthened since its last major eight years ago.

McIlroy, who won last year at Kiawah Island for his second major title in as many seasons after his win at the 2011 US Open, has struggled for much of 2013 but is trying to relax and not be so emotional about a round or every shot.

"I've become a little bit too emotionally involved with my golf over the past few months," McIlroy said. "I've let it either get me excited or get me down, where I should really just not get too high or too low about it at all."

The change in attitude comes two weeks after calling himself "brain dead" and "unconscious" after an opening-round 79 on his way to missing the cut at the British Open.

When it comes to who needs a major win more, McIlroy or Woods, the 24-year-old Northern Irishman opted for himself.

"I've won two in the last two years. It would be great to continue that trend," McIlroy said.

"He has got 14. I've got two, so I'd better try and catch up. So I think I need one more than he does."

Plenty of rivals seek their first major title and hope for the same breakthrough that US Open winner Justin Rose of England and Masters champion Adam Scott of Australia made earlier this year.

Among those are Lee Westwood, who let a two-shot lead slip away in the final round of the British Open.

The 40-year-old Englishman has 16 top-10 finishes in majors without a triumph, twice as a runner-up and in third six times.

"Obviously, I was a little bit disappointed, but as a golfer, you have to take the positives out whenever you can," Westwood said. "I didn't feel like I had my best game, but I still had a two-shot lead going into the final round, so that's a positive."

Also seeking a major breakthrough is Hunter Mahan, who had his best major finish sharing fourth at the US Open and shared ninth at the British Open. Mahan led the Canadian Open after 36 holes when his wife Kandi went into labor and he withdrew to be with her for the birth of daughter Zoe.

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