Mickelson: McIlroy the man to beat
3:14pm Wednesday 20th August 2014 in © Press Association 2014
Phil Mickelson admits Rory McIlroy will be difficult to beat heading into the FedEx Cup play-offs in New Jersey this week.
The PGA Tour begins its four-tournament race to the finish line with The Barclays at Ridgewood Country Club on Thursday, and all eyes will be on world number one McIlroy as he goes for a fourth win in a row after victories at the Open Championship, the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and the US PGA Championship.
The Northern Irishman leads the FedEx Cup rankings and has two play-off victories to his name from 2012 but has yet to claim the big prize and the 10million US dollar cheque that comes with it.
The top 125 players in the standings have qualified for The Barclays, with the field being trimmed to 100 for the Deutsche Bank Championship, 70 for the BMW Championship and then 30 for the Tour Championship.
Mickelson has qualified for every Tour Championship since the FedEx Cup began in 2007, a feat matched only by Steve Stricker, who will not play until December due to hip and back injuries, and Hunter Mahan.
The Californian, who also has two play-off wins under his belt, is currently 45th in the rankings but that can change very quickly with a win and, following a second-place finish behind McIlroy at Valhalla, Mickelson is brimming with confidence.
"The PGA was a big week for me because it was the first time this year my game was back," he told a press conference.
"It gave me an excitement and energy heading into the FedExCup and Barclays here that my game is back and I'm ready to compete and get back into contention.
"It was so fun being up there again, and the nerves and the excitement of it all, it got me excited."
However, he also knows that to get to the top of the leaderboard he must overcome McIlroy, whose form in the last few weeks he admits has been "incredible".
"His level of play this last month has been exceptional," he said
"Now, from what I've seen over the years with Tiger (Woods), from 2000, if you want to compare it to that, well, he's got a ways to go.
"But to win the British and the PGA and throw a World Golf Championships in the middle under anybody's circumstances, that is just a remarkable month of golf and some of the best that I've seen.
"You can probably go back and compare it to some of the Tiger stuff. He's done that over decades. And I wouldn't be surprised if Rory did it too. You just never know. He's that good. He can do it."
While McIlroy may be the player in form at the minute, the man second in the standings, Jimmy Walker, is without a victory in six months after a blistering start to the season.
Walker had won the Frys.com Open, the Sony Open and the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am by February, and six further top-10s saw him hold the top spot for most of the season.
The 35-year-old finished seventh at Valhalla, his third top-10 finish in a major this year, and he is confident the next win is not far away.
"I feel like I've played well," said Walker.
" Yeah, obviously I would have liked to have won again, but before this year it had taken 180 times before I had one and you win three.
"But I've continued to play well. I've got a ton of top-10s. I've played good in the big tournaments and I'm looking to win again.
"It's close. It's right there. It's just a matter of putting four weeks together but I've been there."