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Hot Seat: Feel the heat

Tiger Woods
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KINGSBARNS, SCOTLAND - OCTOBER 03: The pin flag on the seventh green bends over as high winds causes the abandonment of the third round of The Alfred Dunhill Links Championship at Kingsbarns Golf Links on October 3, 2009 in St. Andrews, Scotland. Photo by Phil Inglis/Getty Images (Photo by Phil Inglis/Getty Images)  - 

Welcome to golf’s Hot Seat.

Once a week, the aim is to gauge who is feeling the most heat to perform going into a tournament or major championship.

This week, though, the look ahead spans the entire season.

Here’s our Hot Seat index:

Smoldering pants: Tiger Woods

Tiger Woods, at his best, made the guys teeing it up with him feel like somebody rubbed Deep Heat in their jockeys.

He was a human thermostat able to turn up the heat on foes like nobody since Jack Nicklaus.

A final-round Sunday pairing with Woods was once only slightly less daunting than sitting through an IRS audit.

His 36th birthday in his rear-view mirror, Woods faces the audit now with so many young stars looking to measure themselves against him in late Sunday duels, young stars who built their confidence while Woods did them a big favor getting out of their way.

With five more major championship titles to be won to top Nicklaus’ record, the heat is on Woods to show he can build on his Chevron World Challenge title last month. Fourteen major championships have passed since Woods won his last major at the U.S. Open in 2008, though he’s only played in 10 of them. Still, 14 majors have never passed in the Woods era without a Woods title. The longest previous dry spell was 10.

Time isn’t on Woods' side anymore. Though his knee is feeling better, we don’t know how it will hold up in his bid to pass Nicklaus. That ratchets up the temperature in trying to get there sooner rather than later.

Phil Mickelson

A summer at the Equator: Phil Mickelson

Yeah, sure, he’ll be inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in May, but Mickelson would love to make the folks in St. Augustine expand his exhibit in the future.

Mickelson wants to win the career grand slam before he retires, but, at 41, there’s the possibility he’s old for his age with psoriatic arthritis an issue. Mickelson needs to win the U.S. Open and British Open to claim all four of golf’s majors and become just the sixth player since the Masters began to win the career slam.

The U.S. Open is at the Olympic Club outside San Francisco this year. Mickelson tied for 10th the last time the U.S. Open was played there in '98. The British Open is at Royal Lytham & St. Annes. Mickelson tied for 40th there in '96 and tied for 30th there in '01.

Luke Donald

Death Valley discomfort: Luke Donald

Donald may be No. 1 in the world rankings, but he’s also the best player in the world who hasn’t won a major.

There’s an invisible asterisk with any major-less No. 1.

Can you lay claim to being the best in the world when you have been shut out in the four most important events in the game? The question turns up the temperature on Donald in this year’s majors. He’s 0 for 34 trying to win one.

Lee Westwood

Sahara heat: Lee Westwood

The former No. 1 wants that title back, and he would love to take it back winning his first major. At 38, Westwood’s still got time, but the clock’s ticking faster. He’s 0 for 55 in majors.

Davis Love III

Jalapeno spicy: Davis Love III

The United States will be looking to win back the Ryder Cup on its home turf in Medinah in September after losing four of the last five Ryder Cups and six of the last eight. As the American captain, Love faces the wonder of Ryder Cup captaincy: He will be celebrated as a genius or panned as a dunce. Depends on the outcome. That’s typically the brutal nature of Ryder Cup captaincy.

Rickie Fowler

Subtropical humidity: Rickie Fowler

Fowler just turned 24, but with a profile as high as his, there’s a downside to having no wins to show all those folks who think there’s too much hype.