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Woods, Mickelson, Top Golfers Fight for US Open Title

The second major golf tournament of the year, the U.S. Open, gets underway Thursday in Farmingdale, New York, with world number-one Tiger Woods of the United States back to defend his title. The tournament also marks an emotional first for second-ranked Phil Mickelson of the United States.

Tiger Woods won last year's tournament in a dramatic 19-hole playoff over Rocco Mediate. The top-ranked golfer struggled with stress fractures and a torn ligament in his left knee, but won the tournament anyway.

After taking his 14th major crown, Woods underwent reconstructive knee surgery and nearly eight months of rehabilitation. He finished tied for sixth at this year's Masters. Tiger says that his knee has recovered well and he is looking forward to playing.

"You know you think that 'After the surgery I felt so great,' you know, six, eight months later. But everyone says 'Just imagine what you feel like in another six months.' But I keep getting better and better. You know, it is fun. Because before, no matter what I did I kept getting worse," Woods said.

The top names in golf - including second-ranked American Phil Mickelson, third-ranked Paul Casey of England, number-four Sergio Garcia of Spain, and 2007 U.S. Open and this year's Masters champion Angel Cabrera - tee off on the Bethpage Black Course.

This is Mickelson's first major tournament since his wife Amy was diagnosed with breast cancer last month. Mickelson suspended his tour play to care for his wife, but after consultation with doctors, the couple decided he should return to the course last week at the St. Jude Classic in Memphis.

More than 50,000 fans are expected to attend the U.S. Open each day. Mickelson is a crowd favorite at the Bethpage Black course. He says he looks forward to the support of his fans.

"I am putting everything I have into this week because I do not anticipate being able to play for a little while. And the fact that my normal support system, Amy and the kids and so forth are not going to make the trip this week, I am kind of hoping to feel the support to kind of help me through the week," Mickelson said.

The last time the U.S. Open was at Bethpage Black was 2002, when Woods led from start to finish, and won by three strokes over Mickelson. This year's course is to play longer at 6,790 meters.