Tuning in for the final round of the 103rd PGA Championship felt excitingly similar to tuning in for the final round of the 2019 Masters. In each, a legend, far removed from his prime, looked poised to emerge victorious on golf’s most prestigious stage.
In each, golf fans got what they wanted.
On Sunday at Kiawah Island, Phil Mickelson became the oldest player to ever win a major championship.
The first major championship in 1860 took place before the U.S. Civil War commenced. After 161 years of major championship play, Mickelson is the oldest to ever reach the peak of the golfing world. Mickelson needed something more than what got him his first five major titles.
“It might take a little extra work, a little bit of harder effort, but gosh is it worth it in the end,” Mickelson said afterward.
Mickelson’s victory is more impressive.
Woods' victory came at Augusta National Golf Club, a course that isn’t exceptionally long and one that he’s played hundreds of times. ANGC favors players who have seen it most. Mickelson won at the longest golf course in major championship history and at a venue on which he doesn’t have accumulated experience.
To show just how difficult the golf course was set up, Bryson DeChambeau, the 27-year-old who leads the PGA Tour in driving distance, called it “the most difficult golf course that I’ve played on Tour.”
Mickelson’s victory also comes at a much older age. Tiger’s victory came at the age of 43. Phil is 50, going on 51. As an older professional athlete, seven additional years past one’s prime is an extremely long period of time. However, Mickelson also has seemingly dealt with fewer physical ailments than Woods, whose body is much older medically speaking.
In addition to the many challenges associated with aging, Mickelson has admitted maintaining focus is a struggle. Lefty, however, didn’t lose it on Sunday.
Even though his 1-iron cracked just 15 minutes before teeing off, forcing him to replace it with a 4-wood, he didn’t appear disheveled out of the gate, following up a bogey on the first with an up-and-down for birdie on the par-5 second. Mickelson survived numerous multi-shot swings, including on the first and second holes. On No. 2, there was a three-shot swing as Koepka's tee shot found a hazard and his wedge approach went over the green and into a nasty lie. On the par-3 fifth, with Koepka looking at a potential birdie, Mickelson holed a bunker shot for birdie, sending the crowd into a frenzy.
On the back nine, Kiawah’s elements accentuated the drama. Koepka chunked a sand shot from left of the thirteenth green. Mickelson found the water right of that green. On 16, with the wind’s assistance, Lefty blasted a 366-yard drive, the longest on that hole all week. With everything on the line, Mickelson hit an ideal shot to the long, punishing par-3 17th, only to bounce into the nasty native grass behind the 17th.
CBS commentators Nick Faldo and Ian Baker-Finch alluded to their own nervousness as the final group putted on the 17th hole. Faldo said he believed he had never been put through the ringer quite as he had been watching the final stretch.
With a two-shot lead and one last tee shot to go, Mickelson didn't relent. He blasted driver toward the hospitality areas up the 18th hole. It wasn't Winged Foot 2.0; he was safe and in fine shape to win. The rowdy scene around the 18th green made Mickelson's historic win all the more memorable.
History is inevitably made at the conclusion of each major championship, always recorded in the books but sometimes rarely revisited. Sunday will not go down as forgotten history.
Phil Mickelson, with his brother and caddie Tim walking by his side along the sand dunes of Kiawah Island, contributed to a story that golf fans will gush over for generations to come.