KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. — The pandemonium closed in around Phil Mickelson as he walked toward the 18th green at Kiawah Island, where thousands upon thousands of euphoric fans wanted a piece of the history he delivered Sunday in the PGA Championship.
For all the thrills and spills that have defined his 30 years of pure theater, his latest act gave Mickelson his own place in the game.
A major champion at age 50, the oldest in the 161 years of major championship golf.
That final walk toward a two-shot victory was as much stress as he faced over the final hour, and it was a bit scary until Mickelson emerged out of the masses and flashed a thumbs-up.
“Slightly unnerving,” Mickelson said, “but exceptionally awesome.”
Just like his game.
Mickelson never thought he was too old to win again, much less a major. He just didn’t have much evidence on his side until a remarkable four days at Kiawah Island where he kept his nerve and delivered all the right shots for his sixth major, and by far the most surprising.
He made two early birdies with that magical wedge game that never left him, and then let a cast of challengers fall too far behind to catching him in the shifting wind off the Atlantic.
Mickelson closed with a 1-over 73 to win by two over Brooks Koepka and Louis Oosthuizen.
“One of the moments I’ll cherish my entire life,” Mickelson said. “I don’t know how to describe the feeling of excitement and fulfillment and accomplishment to do something of this magnitude when very few people thought that I could.”
That list didn’t include Mickelson. Never mind that he had not won in more than two years, had not registered a top 20 in nearly nine months and last won a major in 2013 at the British Open.
Never mind that he was No. 115 in the world.
“This is just an incredible feeling because I believed it was possible, but everything was saying it wasn’t,” Mickelson said.
Julius Boros for 53 years held the distinction of golf’s oldest major champion. He was 48 when he won the 1968 PGA Championship in San Antonio.
The record now belongs to Mickelson, whose legacy is as much rooted in longevity as any of the skills that have made him among the most exciting players in the game.
Mickelson became the 10th player to win majors in three decades, an elite list that starts with Harry Vardon and was most recently achieved by Tiger Woods.
Woods, who won the Masters in 2019 at age 43 after four back surgeries, was among to send a tweet of congratulations.
Three months after 43-year-old Tom Brady won a seventh Super Bowl, Mickelson added to this year of ageless wonders.
“He’s been on tour as long as I’ve been alive,” Jon Rahm said. “For him to keep that willingness to play and compete and practice, it’s truly admirable.”
Koepka and Oosthuizen had their chances, but only briefly. Koepka was 4 over on the three par 5s he faced when the game was still on and closed with a 74. Oosthuizen hit into the water as he was trying to make a final run and shot 73.
“Phil played great,” Koepka said. “It’s pretty cool to see, but a bit disappointed in myself.”
Koepka also got lost in the chaos and said it was the most his right knee, on which he had ligament surgery two months ago, hurt all day.
This was history in the making. No one wanted to miss it.
Tom Watson came close at Turnberry in 2009 when at 59 he had a one-shot lead playing the 18th hole and made bogey, losing the British Open in a playoff to Stewart Cink. Greg Norman was 53 when he had the 54-hole lead at Royal Birkdale and failed to hang on in the 2008 British Open.
Mickelson didn’t let this chance pass him by.
“It was like the Phil that I remember watching just when I turned pro and it was great to see,” Oosthuizen said. “I mean, what an achievement to win a major at 50 years old, and he deserves all of that today.”
Mickelson finished at 6-under 282
The victory came one week after Mickelson accepted a special exemption into the U.S. Open because at No. 115 in the world and winless the last two years, he no longer was exempt from qualifying. As recently as a month ago, he was concerned that he could not keep his focus for 18 holes and kept throwing away shots that set him back.
And then he beat the strongest field of the year — 99 of the top 100 players — and made it look easy at times.
The PGA Championship had the largest and loudest crowd since the return from the COVID-19 pandemic — the PGA of America said it limited tickets to 10,000, and it seemed like twice that many — and it clear what they wanted to see.
The opening hour made it seem as though the final day could belong to anyone. The wind finished its switch to the opposite direction from the opening rounds, and while there was low scoring early, Mickelson and Koepka traded brilliance and blunder.
Koepka flew the green with a wedge on the par-5 second hole, could only chip it about 6 feet to get out of an impossible lie and made double bogey, a three-shot swing when Mickelson hit a deft pitch from thick grass behind the green.
Mickelson holed a sand shot from short of the green on the par-5 third, only for Koepka to tie for the lead with a two-shot swing on the sixth hole when he made birdie and Lefty missed the green well to the right.
Kevin Streelman briefly had a share of the lead. Oosthuizen was lurking, even though it took him seven holes to make a birdie.
And then the potential for any drama was sucked out to sea.
Oosthuizen, coming off a birdie to get within three, had to lay up out of the thick grass on the 13th and then sent his third shot right of the flag and into the water, making triple bogey.
Just like that, Mickelson was up by five and headed toward the inward holes, the wind at his back on the way home with what seemed like the entire state of South Carolina at his side.
The next stop is the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, the only major keeping Mickelson from the career Grand Slam.
“It’s very possible that this is the last tournament I ever win, like if I’m being realistic,” Mickelson said. “But it’s also very possible that I may have had a little bit of a breakthrough in some of my focus and maybe I go on a little bit of a run. I don’t know.
“But the point is that there’s no reason why I or anybody else can’t do it at a later age. It just takes a little bit more work.”
Even at 50, Mickelson still keeps everyone guessing what he will do next.
KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. – Brooks Koepka can barely bend down to get his ball from the hole.
Phil Mickelson is battling father time before our eyes.
While the 2012 PGA Championship at Kiawah was a celebration of youthful virtuosity (Rory McIlroy), the 2021 PGA has become a drama of the human condition. It’s about scar tissue both literal and figurative, and man’s animating quest to catch up to his younger self.
“I felt I had a very clear picture on every shot,” said two-time PGA TOUR Champions winner Mickelson (70), who despite some shaky moments on the back nine will take a one-shot lead over Koepka (70) going into the final round Sunday. “And I’ve been swinging the club well, and so I was executing. I just need to keep that picture a few more times.
“So even though it slipped a little bit today,” he added, “and I didn’t stay as focused and as sharp on a few swings, it’s significantly better than it’s been for a long time.”
Louis Oosthuizen (72) is two off the lead, and nine players, including major winners Bryson DeChambeau (71) and Gary Woodland (72), are within five.
“I left a lot out there,” said Koepka (31 putts). “I’ve got a chance to win, so that’s all I wanted to do today is not give back any shots and be there tomorrow with a chance, and I’ve got that.”
Unlike Mickelson, Koepka, who won the PGA in 2018 and ’19, has non-age-related issues. He won the Waste Management Phoenix Open for the second time in February, but shortly after that had surgery to repair a dislocated kneecap and ligament damage to his right knee.
“Even though I’m not 100 percent,” he said earlier this week, “I can still hit the shots.”
He was in obvious discomfort and unable to bend down to read putts or retrieve his ball from the hole at the Masters. He missed the cut. He also missed the cut at the AT&T Byron Nelson last week, but was pleased, he said, to be able to hit a variety of shots. Kiawah is a very long walk – at 7,876 yards, it’s the longest major venue ever – but at least it’s not hilly. And he’s proven himself correct; he really has hit all the shots.
At 50, Mickelson would become the oldest men’s major winner, besting Julius Boros, who was 48 at the 1968 PGA. It would be his second PGA title (2005); sixth major (and first since the 2013 Open); and 45th PGA TOUR victory (first since the 2019 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro Am).
The Ocean Course is a slippery stage, though, and even in his prime, Mickelson – now 115th in the world, 168th in the FedExCup – was one of the most accident-prone superstars.
He led by five shots early on the back nine Saturday but showed cracks over the next two hours. The most glaring of these was his wild hook at the par-4 13th hole. The ball never crossed dry land, and although Mickelson made a valiant effort – hitting three from the tee and sticking his next shot to just over 11 feet – he failed to make the putt and carded a double-bogey.
His five-shot lead was down to just one over Koepka and Oosthuizen, and although he striped his tee shot to just under 7 1/2 feet at the par-3 14th hole, his birdie try missed badly. The entire sequence – his failure to birdie the par-5 11th to his failure to birdie 14 – took only an hour.
Older players have flirted with winning majors. Jack Nicklaus was 58 when he contended deep into Sunday at the 1998 Masters. Tom Watson was 59 when he nearly won the 2009 Open Championship. Fred Couples was 52 when he led after round two of the 2012 Masters.
None of them won.
With just two victories in the last seven years, Mickelson admits his mental game isn’t what it was. He has tried dietary changes, meditation, and marathon sessions of 36 to 45 holes a day. It’s a work in progress.
What remains clear is that he’s having fun. He and Steve Stricker took on Zach Johnson and Will Zalatoris in a practice round earlier this week, and Mickelson birdied the first three holes.
“Phil and I were 3-up after three,” Stricker said, “and he said it loud enough so everybody could hear, ‘You know, Strick, I thought we’d be more up at this point.’ And we were 3-up after three.
“Typical Phil,” he continued. “It’s good to see him out here. He has such a good time in those practice rounds and seeing everybody it seems like. He still has a tremendous amount of desire to compete at this level, and that’s why he’s doing it and that’s why he’s playing well.”
He’s still got one more day of fun, if that’s what this is. He’s still got people watching.
KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. — The image has become familiar over the years. Phil Mickelson holes a birdie putt and drops that left fist in tempered celebration as he makes his run up the leaderboard in a major.
This was Friday at the PGA Championship, and he kept right on going until he tied for the lead with Louis Oosthuizen going into the weekend at Kiawah Island.
Even at age 50.
Tentative on the toughest stretch as he started dropping shots by missing putts, Mickelson began to look ageless with brilliant iron play and a pair of big birdies that led to a 31 on the front nine of the Ocean Course and a 3-under 69.
Oosthuizen had the best round of the week going, not so much because of his five birdies, but rather a card with no bogeys. That ended on the 18th hole that cost him the outright lead. He still had a 68 and will be in the final group Saturday.
Not to be overlooked was four-time major champion Brooks Koepka, whose two eagles were offset by four bogeys in a round of 71 that left him one shot behind.
Mickelson and Oosthuizen were at 5-under 139, the highest 36-hole score to lead the PGA Championship since the last time at Kiawah Island in 2012 when three players were at 140.
Mickelson is the oldest player to have a share of the lead at the midway point of a major since Fred Couples (52) in the 2012 Masters.
“It’s really fun, obviously, to make a putt on the last hole, finish a round like that and then to have that type of support here has been pretty special,” Mickelson said.
The last birdie was from just inside 25 feet on the ninth hole, with cheers that sounded louder than the limited gallery allowed and carried plenty of hope that Lefty could become golf’s oldest major champion on one of the tougher tracks.
The record belongs to Julius Boros, who was 48 when he won the 1968 PGA Championship.
Branden Grace had a bogey-free round and was in the lead at 6 under until he hit his tee shot into the water on the par-3 17th and made double bogey, and then made bogey on the closing hole for a 71.
Mickelson was being interviewed on TV when Grace fell back with his double bogey, and this development immediately was conveyed to him. He was not overly excited.
“If you were to tell me that Sunday night, I’d really enjoy that,” Mickelson said. “But right now there’s a lot of work to do. … The fact is I’m heading into the weekend with an opportunity and I’m playing really well and I’m having a lot of fun doing it.”
Mickelson has not won on the PGA Tour in two years. His last major championship was the 2013 British Open at Muirfield. He no longer is among the top 100 in the world.
But he’s Phil Mickelson, who has spent a career leaving fans wondering what he’ll do next.
“I think he has the bit between his teeth,” said three-time major champion Padraig Harrington, who played alongside Mickelson for two days. “I think he believes he can do it in these conditions. He’s not here to make the cut.”
The cut was out of reach for Dustin Johnson, who shot 74 and for the first time in his career missed the cut in consecutive majors in the same season. He joined Greg Norman in 1997 as the only No. 1 player to miss the cut in back-to-back majors.
He’ll keep his No. 1 ranking because Justin Thomas also missed the cut with rounds of 75-75.
Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama had six birdies in his round of 68 and was in the group two shots behind with Grace and Christiaan Bezuidenuit (70). U.S. Open champion Bryson DeChambeau shot 71 and was four behind.
Only 18 players remained under par.
The relentless wind made the five-plus hour rounds feel even longer, and it made a sport feel like hard work. Cameron Tringale, who started on No. 10, got within two shots of the lead until playing Nos. 16-18 in 10-over par. He was among 20 rounds at 80 or higher.
Erik van Rooyen was so frustrated that he slammed his club into the tee marker after his shot went into the water on the 17th. The head came off, too — from his club, not to mention his shoulders.
“It’s fun in a kind of a sick way,” Ian Poulter said. He was 6 under through 12 holes, the best start of the week, when he noticed a video board behind the 13th green that posted his score and suggested he was in range of the course record.
It’s a wonder Poulter’s eyes didn’t pop out of his head.
“I just started laughing to myself like, ‘Who in the world would write that and put that on a board with that last five holes to play?’” Poulter said.
He bogeyed four of his last six, which feature the four hardest holes on the course, for a 70.
“It’s not very enjoyable out there because it’s so hard, and every hole is a disaster waiting to happen,” British Open champion Shane Lowry said. “So it’s very stressful and there’s a lot of anxiety and a lot of nerves and a lot of tension out there, but you just have to get on with it and try and hit the best shots you can, and that’s all I’ve been doing.”
Lowry managed a 71, including a par save on the par-5 16th when he hit his drive so far right it was on the beach.
Mickelson had no such issues. He has shown glimpses in recent weeks, but he is concerned about losing focus. This had his attention. He also has a 2-wood in the bag that helps him control his accuracy, at least with the wind at his back. Mickelson missed only three fairways.
“If he can keep it straight and hit it the way that he’s been hitting, he’s going to be around on Sunday for sure,” Jason Day said. “With Phil, you kind of get some off-the-map drives that make it very interesting, and he’s kept it very, very straight over the last two days.”
KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. — Amid the wind and the havoc at Kiawah Island, there was a semblance of simplicity to the way Corey Conners navigated his way around the Ocean Course for a 5-under 67 and a two-shot lead Thursday in the PGA Championship.
He birdied all the par 5s. He made a couple of long putts for birdie. He dropped only one shot. The scorecard alone made it look like a walk on the beach.
It just didn’t feel that way.
“I’d say it’s impossible to be stress-free around this golf course,” Conners said. “You can’t fall asleep out there on any holes. It’s very challenging. I was fortunate to have a good day. Made it as least stressful as possible on myself.”
With a stiff wind into his face for his last five holes, the 29-year-old Canadian played the tough closing stretch in 2 under, one of those birdies a 55-foot putt from just short of the green.
He led by two shots over a half-dozen players. That group included Brooks Koepka, who started his day with a double bogey and stayed largely out of trouble the rest of the way; and Cameron Davis, who overcame a triple bogey on the sixth hole.
Keegan Bradley, Viktor Hovland, Aaron Wise and Sam Horsfield also were at 69. The seven players to break 70 were the fewest for the opening round of the PGA Championship since there were five at Hazeltine in 2002.
“I definitely knew in my preparation that it was possible to have a decent round out here and shoot a 5-, 6-under par round,” Conners said. “So kind of started the day thinking, ‘Why not me?’ There’s birdies to be had.”
No one needed them like Koepka, a major presence when conditions are severe. One hole into this major, he had reason to be more worried about his brain than his ailing right knee.
His opening tee shot on the 10th hole at Kiawah Island was struck poorly and didn’t quite clear a waste area. Koepka tried to do too much from a soft lie in the sand and barely got it out. It led to a double bogey, and the toughest part of the Ocean Course was still to come.
But this is a major, and this is Koepka, and that’s when he’s at his best. He knuckled down from that mess by running off six birdies the rest of the way.
“You can’t do that stuff if you want to win. You’ve just got to be more focused,” said Koepka, who has played only twice in the last three months because of surgery to repair ligaments in his knee. “I don’t know if that’s a lack of not playing or what. It was just stupid. I was able to recover, I guess.”
So did 50-year-old Phil Mickelson, who had four bogeys through six holes and nothing but birdies and pars the rest of the way to join the large group at 70 that included defending champion Collin Morikawa and former U.S. Open champion Gary Woodland.
More telling were those on the other side of par, some of whom will be scrambling to make it to the weekend.
Dustin Johnson, the No. 1 player in the world in the midst of his worst stretch in nearly two years, took a double bogey from a wild tee shot on the front nine and a double bogey on the 18th for a 76. He’s in jeopardy of missing the cut in consecutive majors in the same year for the first time in his career.
Justin Thomas took double bogey on the 18th hole in the morning and two holes later sent a sand shot over the green and just into a hazard for another 6 on the par-5 second. He had a 75.
Rory McIlroy, coming off a victory at Quail Hollow two weeks ago, sent his opening tee shot into a water hazard. He salvaged a bogey, but certainly not his round. McIlroy made bogey on three of the par 5s for a 75, his worst start ever in a PGA Championship.
Jordan Spieth, who needs a victory to complete the career Grand Slam, shot 73.
The PGA of America moved up tee boxes, as expected, to account for the wind. The course played to 7,660 yards — 178 yards shorter than the scorecard — though that didn’t make it easy. Thomas, for one, still hit 7-wood into the 214-yard 17th.
John Daly was among 12 players who shot in the 80s. On the 30-year anniversary of his PGA Championship victory at Crooked Stick, he shot 85.
There were birdies to be had, and mistakes to be made, and Martin Laird was example of both. So wild was his round that he made bogey on No. 12, ran off four straight birdies and then closed with two bogeys. That added to a 70, not a bad day’s work.
“I kind of went out with the mindset this week, even though it’s hard, don’t give the course too much respect,” Laird said. “You still have to take on shots when you have the chance. When I had a spot where I could go at the flag, I was making sure I kept doing it and hit a lot of really nice shots and managed to make some birdies.
“You’re going to hit bogeys on this golf course,” he said. “It’s nice when you can throw in a bunch of birdies, too.”
Finally heeled from a left knee injury, Koepka injured ligaments in his right knee in March and has played only twice since then, the Masters and last week in Dallas.
He began with a poor 3-wood on No. 10 that didn’t clear the waste area. He took on too much with a soft lie in the sand and barely got it out, leading to a double bogey. But he didn’t flinch and had few complaints about his start.
“It’s a major. I’m going to show up. I’m ready to play,” he said. “I love it when it’s difficult. I think that’s why I do so well in the majors. I just know mentally I can grind it out.”