Phil Mickelson and the mad rush that could end in Major Championship history
KIAWAH ISLAND, SC – It’s not quite the same scenario that surrounded another major championship. The backdrop was whether a beep in his golf bag would go off at any time, calling him home.
But Phil Mickelson asking for a drone to be removed from his line of flight when sizing his second shot at the fourth hole of the Ocean Course on Saturday in the third round of the PGA Championship put the longevity of his career in perspective.
Mickelson won a PGA Tour event as an amateur 30 years ago sponsored by a telecommunications company whose main business at the time was not cell phones. They were hardly a thing then.
He competed in the 1999 US Open when his wife, Amy, was due any minute, hence the beep. (Their daughter, Amanda, is now out of college).
Now Mickelson is trying to become the longest-serving major champion of all time.
And it was a drone that caught his attention.
Confronted with a shot from 188 meters, Mickelson was distracted by the hum of the drone used for the TV show. He backed up, summoned a technician to the fairway, and asked the guy to help him move him.
As Mickelson ended up beating the hole, it was part of a wild scene that saw Kiawah Island bow to the side as Mickelson hit five of his first 10 holes to take a five-stroke lead at the PGA Championship. ; he had a 7-footer on the 11th to extend it to six.
And that’s where reality jumped in, reminded Mickelson he was 50, and turned the second major championship of 2021 into a mesmerizing spectacle, with big stalker Brooks Koepka ready to do bicep curls with a another Wanamaker trophy.
Mickelson missed the putt and then made his first 21-hole bogey after finding a waste area on the tee in the 12th. The lead was still four. Then, after seeing Louis Oosthuizen flush his tee shot in the 13th, Mickelson inexplicably hit a worse shot to drown his ball in the same danger, leading to a double bogey.
“Even though it slipped a bit today and I didn’t stay as focused and snappy on a few swings, it’s definitely better than it has been in a long time, ” said Mickelson, whose 2 under par 70 was good. for a one-stroke lead over Koepka and a two-stroke advantage over Oosthuizen. “So I’m making a lot of progress, and I’m going to keep working on this and hopefully I’ll be able to eliminate a few of those loose swings. [on Sunday].
“Because I am playing a lot better than the score shows and I think if I can stay fair I will post a score that better reflects how I actually play.”
Two swings led to three lost shots and turned what looked like a sizable lead into a nervous night of wonder for Mickelson, who hasn’t played in a major championship since the 2016 Open and hasn’t won one. one in eight years, since rallying for an Epic 66 final round at Muirfield in 2013.
It was seen as the crowning glory of a Hall of Fame career, a fitting victory in the game’s longest-running championship, where Lefty had never done very well.
This? It would just be historic. No one has won a major championship in their 50s. The oldest major champion was Julius Boros in 1968. He was 48 when he did. Boros, who won three majors, had a guy named Arnold Palmer breathing his neck that day in San Antonio.
On to watch Mickelson will be Koepka, who is incredibly in contention after playing just four official rounds since the end of February. Knee surgery in March caused Koepka to do more rehabilitation than golf. But here he is again, with another major in sight, surely not worried about the guy who is 20 years older.
“It feels good, it feels normal,” Koepka said. “This is what you’re supposed to do, what you train for. I’m right where I want to be, and we’ll see how. [Sunday] go. Be within three of the lead before the last nine and you have a chance. ”
Koepka is going for her fifth major. Mickelson is after his sixth. Since 1981, two players from at least four majors each have not been paired in Sunday’s final group of a major. It would be Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson at the Masters, where Watson prevailed.
For Mickelson to win his second PGA Championship, he will need to straighten out the 2-wood that got him into trouble twice on Saturday, at the 12th and 13th holes.
Three lost hits. That five-stroke lead he had built through 10 holes was reduced to one.
“I just need to perform better,” Mickelson said. “I hit that shot well; it’s a toss. I didn’t hit it very well today, but I hit it really well and I’m going to work on it.”
And he did, heading for the shooting range in the early evening gloaming, practicing all kinds of shots, then working on the green as well.
Mickelson still leads the field in strokes won from the green start, but he was 70th on Saturday in strokes won off the tee. The statistic that has tormented him for several years has come back to haunt him again.
Can he find the magic for one last trick?
“It’s Phil, isn’t it? It’s theater,” said Jordan Spieth. “It’s pretty amazing. The guy has four good rounds on any golf course in him, and no one would bet against that. What he did in the wind (Thursday and Friday) with the kind of difficulty – I think accuracy off the tee was kind of his biggest struggle – to trim those fairways and gain shots on the pitch and shoot them consistently scores in the conditions we had, I mean, that’s pretty awesome . ”
If anything, Mickelson doesn’t lack confidence. Earlier in the week, he played a practice round with Steve Stricker as a partner against Zach Johnson and Will Zalatoris.
Stricker, the captain of the United States Ryder Cup team, noticed how Mickelson hit the ball. They quickly took the lead in the game.
“Just to give you a taste of what Phil said, Phil and I were 3-up after 3 and he said it loud enough for everyone to hear, ‘You know, Strick, I thought we’d be more at this point, “and we were 3 to 3 after 3,” Stricker said. “Typical Phil.
“He came here very focused, it looked like. [He was] confident in what he was doing, and he drove well with me and hit some big iron shots. So, it’s impressive when you have a 50-year-old leader. But he’s a special player. He’s one of the greatest players in the game, in the history of the game, and he’s kept his health and flexibility. He still hits long enough to compete. It’s pretty cool to see him up there at the top. ”
Cool, of course.
Trust? Never fail with Phil.
None of that has wavered in the 30 years of change that has seen Mickelson go from a baby-faced hotshot to an older statesman.
But nothing would be more celebrated or more important than a victory on Sunday.