Phil Mickelson conquers Kiawah with historic US PGA victory

American holds on to become the oldest player ever to win a men's Major title

Phil Mickelson celebrates with brother and caddie Tim Mickelson after winning the 2021 US PGA Championship at the Ocean Course of Kiawah Island. Photo: Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Phil Mickelson celebrates with brother and caddie Tim Mickelson after winning the 2021 US PGA Championship at the Ocean Course of Kiawah Island. Photo: Jamie Squire/Getty Images

 

In front of howling, euphoric fans in this opulent corner of South Carolina, Phil Mickelson strode into the record books. At 50 years of age, Mickelson became the oldest major winner of all time. It was fitting that galleries, who pulled vehemently for Mickelson, were back in full force to witness the making of history. They mobbed the champion as he played his final hole.

Nothing in golf’s modern era will surpass Tiger Woods’s 2019 Masters triumph but Mickelson has now run his old nemesis close. A second success at the US PGA Championship means Mickelson, whose career has regularly looked to be dwindling towards obscurity, has six major titles to his name. That total is only one shy of Arnold Palmer and Bobby Jones. Seve Ballesteros “only” won five. That Mickelson claimed the Wanamaker Trophy, eight years after taking delivery of major number five at Muirfield, belied his advancing years.

This was glory for the ages, a sporting fairytale and a life lesson for 50-somethings everywhere. Mickelson was already known as one of the greatest ever to play this ridiculous game but the tenacity he showed at a brutally tough Kiawah Island is worthy of immense praise. Some scoffed when Mickelson was handed a special exemption into next month’s US Open. Who is laughing now?

Brooks Koepka, Mickelson’s Sunday playing partner, wilted badly en route to a 74. Mickelson’s margin of victory – as if detail seemed to matter – was two, at six under par, from Koepka and Louis Oosthuizen, after a 73.

Koepka’s putting was not convincing throughout the tournament but regressed further on day four. Oosthuizen will shiver when recalling the Ocean Course’s unlucky 13th hole. Twice in as many days, the South African found water there.

Mickelson hits his second shot at the 16th. Photo: Tannen Maury/EPA
Mickelson hits his second shot at the 16th. Photo: Tannen Maury/EPA

Mickelson’s previous top 20 result was last August in Memphis, with even that a glaring exception to a tale of competitive woe. It was understandable, then, that onlookers expected him to fold under youthful pressure. Instead, Mickelson’s ruthlessness forced his challengers into a series of errors.

A day of epic drama was characterised within two holes. Mickelson, having started with one-stroke lead, trailed Koepka after a bogey against birdie at the 1st. Koepka encountered a horrible lie by the green at the 2nd, which triggered a double bogey. As Mickelson birdied, he now led by two. At the 5th, Mickelson delivered the kind of short game sorcery as has typified his career. From a greenside bunker, a glorious shot found the bottom of the cup for a birdie two. Koepka lurked until costly bogeys at 10 and 11, the former affording Mickelson a four-shot advantage. Oosthuizen had emerged as the key threat but Mickelson was in territory of only being able to throw this championship away. Oosthuizen found alligator-ridden waters with his approach to the 13th. No wonder he looked skywards.

Mickelson had five shots to play with, meaning his ball trundling into water by virtue of a loose second to 13 needn’t be altogether fateful. Another bogey, at the 14th, where Mickelson missed the green, cut the lead to three. Oosthuizen had hope; Koepka, who was by now four back, just about likewise. Mickelson just had to tick off the holes; he parred the 15th, birdied the 16th, bogeyed the penultimate hole and eased to par at the last. Koepka, to his credit, finished strongly.

When Pádraig Harrington chipped in for a birdie at the 14th, he was three under par and had an outside chance of an assault on the leaders. Europe’s Ryder Cup captain was to bogey the 15th, halting his charge, but a tie for fourth further emphasised a major for old(er) men. Harrington turns 50 in August. There is no prospect, though, of playing duties when the USA sit in opposition at Whistling Straits later this year.

Brooks Koepka plays his second shot on the 13th hole. Photo: Stacy Revere/Getty Images
Brooks Koepka plays his second shot on the 13th hole. Photo: Stacy Revere/Getty Images

“I’m well past that,” said Harrington with a smile. “I’m too long in the tooth at this stage. I’m very much dedicated to being the captain. I’m letting other people have their time. I had mine and you can’t do both. Nobody’s ever going to be a Ryder Cup captain and a player at the same time.”

Shane Lowry, who played with Harrington on Sunday, matched his compatriot’s aggregate, as did Harry Higgs and Paul Casey. Lowry was naturally full of praise for his partner. “He hasn’t lost it, has he?” Lowry said. “He’s still the ultra competitor. When he bombed a drive down 15, I was like, ‘Wow, if Paddy can make one or two on the way in, he’s got a good chance here.’ God help those guys on the Senior Tour.”

Mickelson has previously wrestled with dedicating his professional time to the very same, a more placid, domain. Watching what transpired here only rendered that dilemma utterly absurd. Phil has thrilled, three weeks before he turns 51. This marks his finest hour. – Guardian

Final scores from the US PGA Championship (USA unless stated, Par 72)

282 Phil Mickelson 70 69 70 73

284 Brooks Koepka 69 71 70 74, Louis Oosthuizen (Rsa) 71 68 72 73

286 Paul Casey (Eng) 71 71 73 71, Pádraig Harrington (Irl) 71 73 73 69, Harry Higgs 72 71 73 70, Shane Lowry (Irl) 73 71 73 69

287 Abraham Ancer (Mex) 74 72 76 65, Tony Finau 74 72 70 71, Rickie Fowler 71 76 69 71, Collin Morikawa 70 75 74 68, Jon Rahm (Spa) 72 75 72 68, Justin Rose (Eng) 72 75 73 67, Scottie Scheffler 72 74 71 70, Kevin Streelman 70 72 70 75, Will Zalatoris 71 74 72 70

288 Keegan Bradley 69 75 72 72, Corey Conners (Can) 67 75 73 73, Charley Hoffman 73 70 73 72, Sung Jae Im (Kor) 70 72 73 73, Patrick Reed 74 75 69 70, Aaron Wise 69 79 72 68

289 Patrick Cantlay 73 73 70 73, Matthew Fitzpatrick (Eng) 73 71 72 73, Billy Horschel 77 72 68 72, Chan Kim 75 74 73 67, Martin Laird (Sco) 70 73 74 72, Hideki Matsuyama (Jpn) 73 68 76 72, Jason Scrivener (Aus) 73 75 72 69

290 Christiaan Bezuidenhout (Rsa) 71 70 72 77, Stewart Cink 71 76 74 69, Viktor Hovland (Nor) 69 75 75 71, Matt Jones (Aus) 73 75 74 68, Joaquin Niemann (Chi) 71 72 71 76, Ian Poulter (Eng) 74 70 73 73, Webb Simpson 75 74 69 72, Jordan Spieth 73 75 68 74

291 Bryson DeChambeau 72 71 71 77, Branden Grace (Rsa) 70 71 72 78, Emiliano Grillo (Arg) 77 72 72 70, Tyrrell Hatton (Eng) 71 75 73 72, Richy Werenski 71 72 73 75, Gary Woodland 70 72 72 77

292 Ben Cook 72 77 69 74, Jason Day (Aus) 74 75 72 71, Talor Gooch 71 78 70 73, Steve Stricker 76 71 70 75, Daniel van Tonder (Rsa) 75 70 74 73

293 Byeong-Hun An (Kor) 73 75 77 68, Sam Horsfield (Eng) 69 80 73 71, Jason Kokrak 71 72 73 77, Robert MacIntyre (Sco) 75 73 72 73, Rory McIlroy (NIrl) 75 72 74 72, Harold Varner III 73 76 71 73

294 Joel Dahmen 74 73 70 77, Alexander Noren (Swe) 77 72 70 75, Carlos Ortiz (Mex) 73 74 71 76, Matt Wallace (Eng) 73 73 77 71

295 Dean Burmester (Rsa) 74 74 74 73, Cameron Davis (Aus) 69 78 76 72, Denny McCarthy 73 76 72 74, Cameron Smith (Aus) 72 73 73 77, Robert Streb 77 72 74 72

296 Harris English 75 74 75 72, Adam Hadwin (Can) 77 71 76 72, Garrick Higgo (Rsa) 73 76 78 69, Tom Hoge 74 75 74 73, Henrik Stenson (Swe) 73 76 76 71, Jimmy Walker 73 74 75 74, Danny Willett (Eng) 77 71 74 74

297 Russell Henley 78 70 74 75, Lucas Herbert (Aus) 76 72 77 72, Tom Lewis (Eng) 71 74 76 76, Lee Westwood (Eng) 73 72 75 77

298 Daniel Berger 79 69 74 76, Wyndham Clark 75 74 72 77

299 Brendan Steele 75 74 77 73

300 Brad Marek 73 73 78 76

301 Rasmus Hoejgaard (Den) 71 76 79 75

302 Bubba Watson 72 73 77 80

306 Brian Gay 77 71 80 78

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