Tiger's grip on the top spot under threat at Firestone

By Mark Lamport-Stokes

AKRON, Ohio (Reuters) - Extra spice has been added to this week's WGC-Bridgestone Invitational where Tiger Woods is in danger of being dethroned as world number one by either fellow American Phil Mickelson or Britain's Lee Westwood.

Mickelson would take over at the top for the first time with victory at Firestone Country Club on Sunday, as would a triumphant Westwood if Woods finishes worse than in a two-way tie for second place.

"You just keep playing," the 34-year-old American told reporters on the eve of Thursday's opening round.

"How I got here in the first place was by winning golf tournaments, and how I will sustain it is by winning golf tournaments. Winning golf tournaments takes care of a lot of things and being No. 1 is one of them."

Woods, a 14-times major winner, has been golf's leading player for the last 270 weeks and for an overall total of 612 weeks in his illustrious career. However, he has not won a tournament since the Australian Masters in November.

Second-ranked Mickelson has yet to reach the mathematical pinnacle of the game but, like Woods, he preferred to concentrate on tournament play.


"It would mean a lot to me, but it's not something I'm focusing on as much as trying to get my game sharp for these upcoming events," the U.S. Masters champion said.

"These next two weeks, Akron and the PGA (Championship), are special events not because it provides an opportunity to become No. 1.

"If I were able to come out and win the PGA, I would take a year that's been special and memorable and make it one of the best years in my career."

Asked if he felt any extra pressure in his bid to reach the top spot for the first time, Mickelson replied: "I don't know.

"But coming down to the stretch (at Firestone), a lot of cool things can happen. It's not just myself that has a chance to be number one. Lee Westwood does as well."

Third-ranked Englishman Westwood, runner-up here two years ago, has to finish in the top two this week to have a chance of becoming world number one.

Mickelson has to be in the top four and would take over as the game's leading player if Woods places outside the top 37 and Westwood third or worse.

(Editing by Sonia Oxley)