US PGA Championship: 'Truly inspirational' – Phil Mickelson becomes oldest major champion as Tiger Woods leads tributes
Phil Mickelson made a mockery of a world ranking of 115, pre-tournament odds of 280-1 and the concept that his best days are behind him as he completed the finest performance of his golden career to become the oldest major champion in golf history. At the age of 50 and 11 months, Mickelson was an irresistible force around Kiawah Island's Ocean Course all week in claiming a sixth major crown.
Phil Mickelson of the United States celebrates with the Wanamaker Trophy after winning during the final round of the 2021 PGA Championship held at the Ocean Course of Kiawah Island Golf Resort on 23 May, 2021 in Kiawah Island, South Carolina
Published 23/05/2021 at 23:46 GMT | Updated 24/05/2021 at 16:14 GMT
It had to be seen to be believed, but then again when Phil Mickelson believes there is nothing quite like him in the world of professional sport.
Mickelson's quite astonishing victory – some will say miraculous – in becoming the oldest major champion of all time at the 103rd US PGA Championship, aged a sprightly 50 years and 11 months, on Sunday was one of the greatest performances in the undulating history of the ancient game.
Not so much rolling back the years as rolling home the putts. Mickelson brings a frisson and incomparable sense of theatre to his trade with his commitment to attack, to never retreat under pressure, a quite startling asset of considered bravery on such enormous occasions of unrelenting heat.
"Truly inspirational to see Phil Mickelson do it again at 50 years of age. Congrats!!!!!!!," said the 15-times major winner Tiger Woods in leading the tributes to his US Ryder Cup colleague as he continues his recovery from a car crash in February.
"Well done my friend, many more," said the 18-times major champion Jack Nicklaus.
Starting the day with a one-shot lead on seven under, Lefty was still second favourite behind playing partner Brooks Koepka standing on the first tee, but ended it with a two-shot victory that was more comfortable than the record books will show.
A closing one-over par round of 73 was enough to claim the Wanamaker Trophy on a six-under par total of 282 following earlier rounds of 70, 69 and 70 around Kiawah Island's daunting Ocean Course – and conclude in some style a 53-year wait for a man in his 50s to land one of the sport's blue-chip trophies.
No golfer beyond 50 had clasped a major crown despite some near misses, the most memorable of which saw the evergreen 59-year-old Tom Watson fail to sink an eight-foot par putt for victory on the final hole, on the cusp of a sixth Open Championship victory at Turnberry in 2009, before Stewart Cink sunk him in a play-off.
Mickelson took great care to make sure he was always in control of his own destiny. It made his pre-tournament musings about learning from failure sound even more prophetic.
"I’ve failed many times in my life and career and because of this I’ve learned a lot," he said.
Instead of feeling defeated countless times, I’ve used it as fuel to drive me to work harder. So today, join me in accepting our failures. Let’s use them to motivate us to work even harder.
Rated as a 280-1 outsider before the first round and ranked 115 in the world without a PGA tournament success in over two years, it was a quite remarkable display of class, composure and craft at the longest and arguably most daunting course in major tournament golf stretching out to 7,849 yards.
By claiming his first major title since the 2013 Open Championship, Mickelson etched his place in sporting folklore in usurping Julius Boros – who was 48 when he carried off the 1968 US PGA title in Texas – as he celebrated a sixth major crown.
GOLF'S OLDEST MAJOR CHAMPIONS
Phil Mickelson - 50 years, 11 months - 2021 PGA Championship
Julius Boros - 48-4 - 1968 PGA Championship
Tom Morris Sr. - 46-3 - 1867 British Open
Jack Nicklaus - 46-2 - 1986 Masters
Jerry Barber - 45-3 - 1961 PGA Championship
Hale Irwin - 45-0 - 1990 U.S. Open
Lee Trevino - 44-8 - 1984 PGA Championship
Roberto De Vicenzo - 44-0 - 1967 British Open
Harry Vardon - 44-0 - 1914 British Open
Raymond Floyd - 43-9 - 1986 U.S. Open
Ted Ray - 43-4 - 1920 U.S. Open
Tom Morris Sr. 43-3 - 1864 British Open
Ben Crenshaw - 43-2 - 1995 Masters
"I just love this game of golf, and the challenge of competing against these great players," said Mickelson, who last lifted the US PGA title in 2005.
"This is just amazing. I believed I had the ability to do it. I've been able to get back to playing golf at the highest level. It is a moment I will cherish forever.
As you get older, you have to work harder, but there is no why reason it can't be done and this proves it.
Koepka – winner in 2018 and 2019 – and the 2010 Open champion Louis Oosthuizen finished two strokes behind on four under with Padraig Harrington, Shane Lowry, Harry Higgs and Paul Casey in a share of fourth on two under.
But nobody really threatened to topple a man with his mind on the job and the minerals to back it up despite a few tension-ridden moments on the back nine.
Mickelson made a miserable start to the fourth round as he fell out of the lead on the par-four opening hole with a bogey as Koepka made birdie, but that was about as angst-ridden as his Sunday afternoon was to get in what turned into a mature and awe-inspiring masterclass in course management.
The crowds go wild for Phil Mickelson.
Image credit: Eurosport
He chipped in from a bunker for a birdie on the fifth hole to steady his nerves with a monster 366-yard drive on the par-five 16th hole, the longest of the week, another memorable shot in a week dripping with them.
His majestic strategy of risk and reward amid the sun, sea and sand of Pete Dye's epic windswept course perched on the Atlantic Ocean was made for his creative game as a genuine golfing force of nature.
He was five strokes clear at one point as younger men faltered and was a picture of calm amid some chaotic scenes on the 18th hole as he flicked a mid-range iron out of the dirt and onto the green to preserve his two-shot lead over playing partner Koepka with the 10,000 crowd cheering "Lefty, Lefty.."
Two putts later, and the trophy was firmly in his grasp with the frazzled South Carolina crowd revelling in the significance of the moment. This was a man who last finished inside the top 10 of a major when he lost out to Henrik Stenson in a two-man joust for the Open Championship around Troon in 2016.
Five years older and bolder has hardly left Lefty with visible scar tissue from such torment.
It was as memorable and magical as Nicklaus claiming his sixth US Masters at the age of 46 in 1986 or the injury-ravaged Woods' unforeseen 15th major triumph around Augusta two years ago. Mickelson's effort will be discussed for years and decades to come.
A month before he turns 51 on 16 June – a day before the US Open begins at Torrey Pines in his native San Diego where he was granted an special exemption before all this kicked off – Mickelson became the oldest major champion brimming with all the vitality of youth as his attacking outlook and shot-shaping conquered the world class 156-man field with plenty to spare.
The chance of a career Grand Slam at the US Open next month will figure heavily in his thinking.
"I'll take two weeks off before that and go out to Torrey and spend time on the greens and really try to be sharp for that week because I know that I'm playing well and this could very well be my last really good opportunity to win a US Open. So I'm going to put everything I have into it."
Winning the PGA ensures he has automatic qualification to the US Open for the next five years as previously closed doors begin to open new possibilities beyond the lucrative Champions Tour for seniors.
“With the help of my wife Amy, my brother Tim and my coach Andrew Getson, I’ve been able to get back to playing golf at the highest level and it’s so fulfilling and rewarding," added the former world number two, who becomes the first player to claim majors in the 2000s, 2010s and 2020s.
This is just an incredible feeling because I just believed that it was possible, but yet everything was saying it wasn’t. I hope that others find that inspiration.
“It might take a little extra work, a little bit harder effort to maintain physically or maintain the skills, but gosh is it worth it in the end, and I’m so appreciative to be holding this Wanamaker Trophy.”
For a player with six majors and 45 PGA Tour victories suddenly behind him, it is tough to recall Mickelson ever performing with such poise, pomp and self-belief.
It had to be seen to be believed.
103rd US PGA Championship final leaderboard
-6 P Mickelson (US)
-4 B Koepka (US)
-4 L Oosthuizen (SA)
-2 P Harrington (Ire)
-2 S Lowry (Ire)
-2 P Casey (Eng)
-2 H Higgs (US)
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