Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Top Contenders to Watch at PGA Championship 2013

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Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Top Contenders to Watch at PGA Championship 2013
Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson are set to begin a bout of epic proportions at the 2013 PGA Championship from Oak Hill Country Club in New York. 

Of course Woods is the heavy favorite entering the tournament which is no surprise seeing as he's coming off his fifth victory of the 2013 golf season at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.

Mickelson has some merit of his own entering the tournament after a thrilling win at the British Open. 

There are other big names entering the tourney such as Rory McIlroy, who has seen a significant fall from grace as of late and has yet to win in 2013. Entering the year many thought the story would be McIlory vs. Woods—it still can be, but McIlroy is going to have to play a special tournament. 

The tournament kicks off Thursday, Aug. 8, but the top contenders are already taking practice rounds in front of large audiences as the tournament's official Twitter account revealed:

Remember that the PGA Championship is known in recent years for seeing a dark-horse winner emerge into stardom. Think Keegan Bradley back in 2011. There's an outside chance of that happening this year, but the tournament is certainly top-heavy with talent. 

Let's take a look at the top contenders to watch in Rochester. 

 

Tiger Woods Riding a Wave of Momentum 

Which Tiger Woods will show up in Rochester? Will it be the Tiger that showed up to the Masters and tied for fourth? Or maybe the Tiger that finished the British Open tied for sixth? 

Or perhaps Tiger will keep the momentum rolling from the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, where he won in a major way over a world-class field?

Either way the pressure on Woods is unfathomable at this point. He has not won a major championship since 2008 and the pressure to get No. 15 is reaching a breaking point. 

Will he crack? 

One thing to note is Tiger isn't a closer anymoreTiger has a tally of 13-under par in the first the two rounds, but a pathetic 23-over in the third and fourth rounds in his past seven majors. 

World No. 1 ranking and recent victory aside, Tiger is going to have to rediscover his killer instinct to bring home No. 15. 

 

Will Phil Mickelson Go for Broke?

Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Perhaps the only man who can stay with Tiger when he is hot is Mickelson. Fresh off a major victory himself at the British Open in Muirfield after a final Round 66, the stage may be set for a showdown of the ages. 

You would think Mickelson does not have a lot left in the tank at this point given the emotional victory in the British Open and his finishing tied for second at the U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club.

Mickelson is now making a push to remain a contender at a third straight major championship. That's asking a lot. 

Granted, Mickelson has continued to look great. He fell a bit flat at Bridgestone, but that was to be expected. His swing remained solid and he drove the ball well, but his putting game fell short. 

That's something he will have to correct now. Mickelson has a tendency to go-for-broke because he trusts in his own ability so much. It certainly worked for him at the British Open. 

If Mickelson does that again and remains competitive, we could have a showdown reminiscent of Jack Nicklaus vs. Arnold Palmer.

 

The Wild Story of Rory McIlroy

Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

Oh, what a difference a year makes. 

It's easy to forget McIlroy enters Oak Hill Country Club as the defending champion after coming away with an eight-stroke victory last year at Kiawah Island in South Carolina.

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McIlroy won two more times in 2012 but has come crashing back down to Earth this year. His recent outings have been on the verge of pathetic, including missing the cut at the British Open. 

It's still hard to count out the 25-year-old at this point, especially after a bit of a rebound showing at Bridgestone where he finished tied for 27th. 

The Northern Island native may be the most important player to watch in Rochester. He is not currently as hot as Woods or Mickelson, but he has the most potential to come out of nowhere and make a run at the whole thing. 

McIlroy has been a bit of a punchline as of late, but he'll make some noise if he can keep his head on straight and build off his Bridgestone performance. 

On sheer talent alone McIlroy is a serious candidate to win it all for the second consecutive year. 

 

Follow me on Twitter for more news and analysis @Chris_Roling

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