KIAWAH ISLAND, SC – Phil Mickelson won his sixth major and was by far the most surprising Sunday at the PGA Championship. At 50, he became the oldest major championship golf winner in 161 years.
Mickelson never thought he was too old to win again, let alone a major. For a remarkable four days on Kiawah Island, where he kept his cool and delivered the right shots for his first big win since 2013, he had little evidence on his side.
He made two early birdies with that magical wedge game that had never left him, then dropped a group of challengers too far to catch it in the shifting winds from the Atlantic.
“One of the moments I’ll cherish my whole life,” said Mickelson. “I don’t know how to describe the excitement, fulfillment, and accomplishment of doing something on this scale when very few people thought I could.” ”
Mickelson did not include that list of people. It doesn’t matter that he hadn’t won for more than two years, hadn’t registered a Top 20 for almost nine months and last won a major at the Open in 2013. It doesn’t matter that he was number 115 in the world.
“It’s just an incredible feeling because I thought it was possible, but everything said it wasn’t possible,” said Mickelson.
Julius Boros was the oldest great golf champion for 53 years. He was 48 when he won the PGA Championship in San Antonio in 1968.
The record now belongs to Mickelson, whose legacy is rooted in longevity as well as all of the skills that made him one of the most exciting players in the game.
Mickelson became the 10th player to win majors in three decades, an elite list starting with Harry Vardon and last reached by Tiger Woods.
Woods, who won the Masters in 2019 at the age of 43 after four back surgeries, was one of them Send a tweet with congratulations.
Really inspiring to see @PhilMickelson Do it all over again at the age of 50. Congratulation!!!!!!!
– Tiger Woods (@TigerWoods) May 23, 2021
Three months after the 43-year-old Tom Brady Mickelson won a seventh Super Bowl and added timeless wonders to this year.
Mickelson became the first player in the history of the PGA Tour to win tournaments 30 years apart. The first of his 45 titles was in 1991 when he was a junior in Arizona state.
“He’s on tour as long as I’m alive.” Jon Rahm said. “It is really admirable for him to maintain this willingness to play, compete and practice.”
Koepka and Oosthuizen had their chances, but only briefly. Koepka was 4 out of the three par-5s he faced while the game was still on, finishing on a 74. Oosthuizen hit the water trying to make one final run and hit 73.
“Phil played great,” said Koepka. “It’s pretty cool to see, but a little disappointed with me.”
This was history in the making and nobody wanted to be without it.
Chaos broke out on the 18th hole after Mickelson hit 9-irons safely up to 15 feet and took an almost unlikely victory. Thousands of fans enveloped him on the fairway – a scene normally only seen at the Open Championship – until Mickelson came into view with a thumbs up.
“I’ve never had an experience like this,” said Mickelson. “A little annoying, but exceptionally great.”
Chants of “Lefty! Lefty! Lefty!” Chased him onto the green and into the scoring tent, his last duty of a week that he won’t soon forget.
Tom Watson got close at Turnberry in 2009 when he had a 1-shot lead playing the 18th hole at the age of 59, bogeying and losing to The Open in a playoff Stewart Cink. Greg Norman was 53 when he had the 54-hole lead at Royal Birkdale and failed to keep up at the 2008 Open.
Mickelson did not miss this opportunity.
“It was like the Phil I remember going pro and it was great to see,” Oosthuizen said today.
Mickelson finished at 6-under 282.
The win came a week after Mickelson accepted a special exception at the US Open because he was 115th in the world and had not been exempt from qualifying for the past two years without a win. A month ago he was worried that he would not be able to keep his focus for 18 holes and kept throwing shots away that put him back.
And then he hit the strongest field of the year – 99 of the top 100 players – and sometimes made it look easy.
Phil Mickelson became the first player in the history of the PGA Tour to win tournaments 30 years apart. The first of his 45 titles was in 1991 when he was a junior in Arizona state. Stacy Revere / Getty Images
The PGA championship had the biggest and loudest crowd since the return from the COVID-19 pandemic – the PGA of America said it had capped the number of tickets to 10,000 and there seemed to be twice as many – and it was clear what the fans wanted to see.
The opening times gave the impression that the last day could belong to everyone. The wind ended its move in the opposite direction from the opening laps, and while there were few points early on, Mickelson and Koepka traded brilliance and mistakes.
Koepka flew the green with a wedge on the second par 5 hole, could only chop it about 6 feet to get out of an impossible lie, and did a double bogey, a 3-shot swing, as Mickelson made a skillful field of play of thick grass behind the hole met green.
Mickelson took a sand shot close to the green on the par-5 third, except that Koepka took the lead with a two-shot stroke on the sixth hole when he made birdie and Lefty missed the green well to the right.
Kevin Streelman briefly had a stake in the leadership. Oosthuizen lurked even though it took seven holes to make a birdie.
And then the potential for drama was sucked out to sea.
Coming from a birdie to get within 3, Oosthuizen had to lay out of the thick grass on the 13th and then sent his third shot into the water to the right of the flag to do a triple bogey.
Just like that, Mickelson had got up at 5 a.m. and headed for the inner holes, the wind on its way back home with what appeared to be the entire state of South Carolina at his side.
The next stop is the US Open in Torrey Pines, the only big one to keep Mickelson from the career grand slam.
“It is very likely that this will be the last tournament I will ever win, as if I was realistic,” said Mickelson. Maybe I run a little. I dont know.
“But the point is, there’s no reason why I or anyone else can’t do it at a later age. It just takes a little more work.”
Even at 50, Mickelson still makes everyone guess what he’s going to do next.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.