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Mickelson confident of ending US Open hoodoo

Phil Mickelson's bid for an elusive first US Open title and Tiger Woods's desperate search for consistency have dominated the build-up to Thursday's opening round at Pebble Beach.

World No2 Mickelson and top-ranked Woods know Pebble Beach Golf Links very well and have produced winning form on the spectacular coastal layout.

Left-hander Mickelson has clinched the PGA Tour's Pebble Beach National Pro-Am three times, while Woods delivered one of the best golfing displays ever at the 2000 US Open when he stormed to victory by an astonishing 15 strokes.

"It was the greatest performance I've ever seen in the game, to shoot 12 under," Mickelson told reporters while preparing for the first round. "That was the best ball-striking and the best putting tournament that's ever been performed in my opinion."

Much has changed, however, since Woods set record benchmarks in the game which have yet to be eclipsed, but he believes he is now close to his best, based on recent practice sessions.

"As far as my game, I'm very excited about how it's progressed," said Woods, who has been paired with British world No3 Lee Westwood and double US Open champion Ernie Els of South Africa for the first two rounds at Pebble Beach.

While major question marks hover over Woods's form, US Masters champion Mickelson is viewed by many of his peers and several leading bookmakers as the tournament favourite.

Despite several agonisingly close calls over the years and five runner-up finishes in his last 11 US Open starts, the short-game magician has never won his national championship.

A Mickelson victory on Sunday would be an extremely popular one and would also elevate the San Diego native to No1 in the world rankings for the first time.

Other candidates for victory include double US Open winners Els and Retief Goosen of South Africa, Americans Steve Stricker and Jim Furyk, Britain's in-form Westwood and Irishman Pádraig Harrington.

It could also be a week to remember for one of the younger guns.

Northern Irishman Rory McIlroy and Australian Jason Day have each won their first PGA Tour titles this season while Japanese sensation Ryo Ishikawa, aged just 18, blazed his way to a seventh career title on his home tour last month.


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