Phil Mickelson stood over his golf ball Monday morning on the 72nd hole of the PGA Championship, and there was, perhaps for the first time all week, total silence across the green earth of Baltusrol Golf Club, the only sound the faint buzz of the blimp overhead. As the sun neared its midday zenith, Mickelson's boisterous followers held their breath, and his wife and three kids crept quietly to the back edge of the 18th green, ready to burst into the sunlight and hug Daddy.
And suddenly the two-foot putt was in the hole. Relief poured out of Mickelson's body, and wild applause poured out of the galleries that had packed around the green to witness the moment. Someone pushed little Amanda, Sophia and Evan Mickelson out toward Daddy, and wife Amy danced out a moment later.
Any day of golf that ends with a Mickelson family hug on the 18th green is a good one for television, for Lefty's adoring fans and, of course, for the Mickelsons. All went home happy on Monday, a day when Mickelson worked overtime to secure his second career major title and enhance his golfing legacy.
"It was an amazing week," Mickelson said, wearing the same smile that seemed to have never left his face all week. "The people of New Jersey gave me a boost when things were tough."
That little putt for birdie on the par-5 18th, the back end of a clutch up and down from the front left rough, wrapped up a round that had begun nearly 20 hours earlier -- before storms forced the suspension of play Sunday evening -- a round of 2-over-par 72, giving Mickelson a 72-hole total of 4-under 276.
That was good enough for a one-stroke victory over Thomas Bjorn (72 -- 277) and Steve Elkington (71 -- 277), either of whom could have forced a playoff by making birdie ahead of Mickelson on 18, the easiest hole on the course. Neither did, as both missed makable birdie putts.
"We couldn't do it on 18," Elkington said, speaking for himself and Bjorn. "Phil did."
Tiger Woods, who did not play a single shot on Monday, finished tied at 278 with Davis Love III, two shots behind Mickelson. Woods managed to complete his round on Sunday, rallying with a 68 that had him in position to contend should the leaders falter when play was resumed Monday morning. Woods ends the major season with wins at the Masters and British Open, a second-place finish at the U.S. Open and a tie for fourth here.
With the victory, Mickelson, who won the 2004 Masters, moves out of the crowded neighborhood of one-time major winners, and into the more rarefied club of multiple winners. Once famously 0 for 46 in the majors, Mickelson has now won two of the last eight contested.
It can be argued that Mickelson did not so much win the tournament as everyone else lost it. Mickelson shot a combined 4 over par in the final two rounds, but held on because no one behind him -- with the exception of Woods, who was too far back -- made a charge.
"It was hard fought," Mickelson said. "I think it was one of the most stressful tournaments for me because I was on the lead or at the lead or tied every night. There was an extra night thrown in there for good measure."
Thousands of spectators who should have been at work and a dozen golfers who should have been at an airport took to the course at 10:05 a.m. Monday for the resumption of the final round. Mickelson returned to the 14th green, where he faced the same three-foot par putt he faced Sunday evening when play was halted -- the same three-foot putt he faced over and over the previous night, in his waking thoughts and his dreams.
"Uphill," he said, "left-to-right, as straightforward as it could be."
Mickelson drained the putt, made a two-putt par at the 15th and arrived at the 16th tee wishing he still had a 3-iron in his bag.
He had taken the club out of his bag, in favor of an extra wedge, on Sunday morning because the wind was blowing in such a way as to make the club unnecessary. However, when play resumed Monday, the wind had changed. Instead of the 3-iron, Mickelson had to nuke a 4-iron that buried itself in a bunker near the front of the game. The resulting bogey dropped him into a tie for the lead with Elkington, and the twosome of leaders became a threesome when Bjorn birdied the par-5 17th.
A two-putt par on 17 brought Mickelson to the 18th tee still in a tie for the lead, as the crowd -- which all week had rooted him on -- pressed against the ropes that ran the length of the hole, seeking a glimpse of its hero. Two groups ahead, Elkington failed to birdie the hole, tapping in for 277, still tied for the lead, but tenuously.
Mickelson launched his drive on 18 with the same controlled fade he had been playing all week, his strategy for hitting fairways. This one was down the middle, settling near the plaque in the fairway commemorating the 1-iron Jack Nicklaus hit from that spot to win the 1967 U.S. Open. Before hitting his second shot, Mickelson took his 3-wood and gave the plaque a little tap -- "for some good karma," he said.
At this point, Mickelson became aware that Bjorn, too, had failed to birdie the hole, which meant Mickelson could win the tournament with a birdie.
"It was kind of an emotional boost," he said about that realization, "because now I feel as though it's my tournament to win, as opposed to fighting for a playoff."
Mickelson thought his 3-wood was perfect, but it settled into the rough near the front right corner of the green.
That set the stage for the shot that ultimately won the tournament. Mickelson arrived at the green -- to perhaps the most enthusiastic applause of the week -- to find his ball some 40 feet from the cup, in the rough. As he held his lob wedge in his hand and waited his turn to hit -- aware that he needed to get up and down in two to win -- he visualized his childhood.
"It's a shot I had hit tens of thousands of times in my backyard," he said. "That's what I was thinking on 18, that this was no different than what I've done in my backyard since I was a kid."
The ball settled two feet from the cup. The crowd pressed in. Mickelson leaned on his putter and downed a bottle of water. The blimp made its final pass. The wife and kids, wearing their Sunday best on Monday, moved into position. And the ball kissed Mickelson's putter, rolled and disappeared.