By Mark Lamport-Stokes
ROCHESTER, New York (Reuters) - Like a bottle of vintage wine, British Open champion Phil Mickelson believes he is getting better with age and says he has never been more motivated as a golfer.
The 43-year-old has recorded four top-threes in his last nine major starts and relishes the prospect of a head-to-head duel with Tiger Woods at this week's PGA Championship.
"I can taste some of my best golf coming out. I can feel it," Mickelson told reporters after playing a practice round at Oak Hill Country Club on Tuesday.
"That has motivated me to continue to work hard and enjoy it, and I'm enjoying it more than I ever have. I'm as motivated as ever to compete and to play and get the best golf out of me to hopefully play against Tiger when he's playing his best.
"That would ultimately be the goal. If I can play as well as I can at the same time he's doing the same, I would love that opportunity."
The likelihood of a Mickelson-Woods showdown at Oak Hill in the season's final major is highly promising with both players having produced winning form in recent weeks.
Mickelson clinched his first British Open crown at Muirfield last month with a stunning final round of five-under-par 66, one week after he had triumphed at the Scottish Open.
Woods romped to victory by seven shots in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone on Sunday to earn his fifth PGA Tour title of the year in just 11 starts.
A final-round duel at Oak Hill between the two top-ranked players in the game would certainly spike television ratings and Mickelson has repeatedly said that he has benefited hugely as a golfer due to the influence of world number one Woods.
"Certainly my record doesn't stand up to what he's done in the game," said Mickelson.
"It's just incredible what he's accomplished with the number of wins, the number of majors and the consistency that he's shown throughout his career. But in the last five or six years, I've had some pretty good success head-to-head.
"He's a great motivator for me. He's helped me work hard. I've loved competing against him. He's really brought the best out of me, especially when we've been paired together, and I hope that we are able to play together for many more years."
Asked whether he had a specific tally of major wins in mind by the time he ended his Hall of Fame career, Mickelson replied: "Right now, just six. That's all I'm thinking about.
"I don't have a specific number. I would really like to have won all four (majors), and I'm one leg away here with the U.S. Open, and I've been close there a number of times."
Mickelson has won the Masters three times and the British Open and PGA Championship once each. He has been a runner-up at the U.S. Open a record six times, including this year.
"I'll be putting in extra effort every year now for that particular event, especially," said Mickelson. "That would be the one thing that I think is fairly obvious."
Long renowned for his magical short game, Mickelson cites the improvement in his driving and putting as the main reasons for his ability to contend consistently at the majors in recent years.
"I feel very confident in my ability to get the ball in play off the tee and I feel very confident in my ability on the greens now," he said.
"I've turned weaknesses into strengths, I believe, and this serves me well in major championships.
"I feel like now the major championships are possibly the easiest ones for me to be in contention and maybe even win, because of those weaknesses becoming strengths."
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Julian Linden)