KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. — Crowd noise, the cherished offshoot of sports so lacking these past 15 wretched months, made perhaps its most resounding return of the whole pandemic Sunday by the Atlantic. It boomed up and down the ocean shore and energized a crowd that pierced thin security and ringed the 18th green. It soundtracked something every soul could understand — a public bucking of a louse known as the aging process.
Some 161 years and 456 turns into the habit of major men’s golf tournaments, the four prized events had both their oldest winner and a winner with a popularity beyond long-standing. At 50 years, 11 months and seven days, numbers the golf geeks might even be able to recite from here, Phil Mickelson actually won the 103rd PGA Championship on Sunday. He won with much Mickelsonian excellence and mild Mickelsonian drama, holding a five-shot lead just after the turn, winning the understandable battle with himself, playing the last four holes at even par, finishing with a 73 on a spiteful course with fiendish winds and besting by two shots Brooks Koepka and Louis Oosthuizen and a field full of men with ages not all that far from Mickelson’s offspring.
“It’s certainly one of the moments I’ll cherish my entire life,” Mickelson said after he scaled further up the leader board of golf history, tying Lee Trevino and Nick Faldo at six major titles among merely 14 souls with that number or more. “I don’t know how to describe the feeling of excitement, fulfillment and accomplishment to do something of this magnitude when very few people thought that I could.”
For an eon or two, Julius Boros’s age in July 1968 — 48 years, 4 months, 18 days — had turned up in golf story after golf story as a hallmark of longevity he achieved at the 1968 PGA Championship in San Antonio at Pecan Valley Golf Club, a course that in January 2012 went dormant. Now came Mickelson with something so reassuring that his brother and caddie, Tim Mickelson, said, “I definitely teared up for the first time since caddying for him.”
For his first major title since his rousing back nine closed the 2013 British Open at Muirfield, which nudged him past golfers such as Seve Ballesteros and Byron Nelson at five majors, Mickelson stayed up while all others faded, with the highlight a bunker shot at No. 5 that bounced twice, rolled sweetly and dunked obediently into the hole for birdie. Hours later, he whacked one from the primary rough through an alley of fans to the 18th green to safety 16 feet from the hole as bedlam turned into greater bedlam.
“I just had to work harder physically to be able to practice as much as I want to,” Mickelson said by way of explanation, soon adding: “I just didn’t see why it couldn’t be done. It just took a little more effort.”
The sprawling span of his career piled noise upon the noise and meaning upon the feat. Well into the year 2021, here was someone who first appeared on the tour during the Reagan administration at age 18 at the 1988 Shearson Lehman Hutton Andy Williams Open (74-71, cut). Here was someone who alighted in the majors at the 1990 U.S. Open, won by Hale Irwin, that versatile athlete aged 75 these days. Here was someone who won as an amateur in Tucson in 1991 at something called the Northern Telecom Open.
It has gone on for so long that Mickelson has been known for promise (early 1990s), for failed promise in majors (early 2000s), for restored promise in majors (five between 2004 and 2013) and for faded relevance (thereafter). He has won twice in recent years — on the Champions Tour, that one for brilliant geezers.
Fourth-ranked Collin Morikawa, the 2020 PGA champion still a disarming 24, finished his closing round of 68 (1 under par for the tournament) and called Mickelson “a guy I’ve watched my entire life.” When Morikawa joined the world in 1997, Mickelson had nine PGA Tour titles already. Jon Rahm, the third-ranked player at 26, finished his closing 68 (1 under all told) and said, “I mean, he’s been on tour as long as I’ve been alive.” When Rahm joined the world, Mickelson had four PGA Tour titles already. Rory McIlroy, the four-time major winner who won here in 2012, finished his tournament at 5 over par and couldn’t pinpoint his first Mickelson memory, drawing laughs when he said, “I can’t remember because I was probably focusing so much on Tiger [Woods].”
That old Woods-Mickelson count stands at a lopsided 15-6, but the “6” has a fresh glow.
That “6” and all its giddy connotation looked distant and blurry when the round began in midafternoon. Mickelson led by a teetering one over Brooks Koepka, that master of majors who had a glaring chance to make it an astounding five of his past 14. Then the astounding came in another direction.
In a front nine of carnival golf, Mickelson and Koepka yo-yoed about, treating the electronic scoreboards to multi-shot swings on four of their first seven holes. Koepka led after No. 1. Mickelson led after No. 2. They stood tied after No. 6, when Tim Mickelson said to his brother, “If you’re going to win this thing, you’re going to have to make committed golf swings.” Mickelson led by two after No. 7. Nobody could tell what was happening all told, adding to the benefit of concessions having reopened so as to distribute tall beers.
Suddenly, for the astounding within the astounding, Koepka started playing par-5s as if he didn’t know how, when his first three days — two eagles, five birdies, five pars — reiterated he most certainly does. He kept using them to take varied tours of rough, perhaps a reminder he remains two months and one week off knee surgery. When he double-bogeyed No. 2 and bogeyed No. 7 with a fine save on the latter while Mickelson birdied both, those two holes had produced one five-shot swing.
Somehow Mickelson led by just two at the turn, even factoring in the fifth-hole bunker magic.
Yet by the time he sent this further piece of art 163 yards to 12 feet at the No. 10 green and when he proceeded to drain that birdie putt, he stood at 8 under par, and his lead ballooned. Nobody could chase hard through the belligerent winds.
“The thing is, Phil played great,” Koepka said.
Koepka often looked like somebody other than Koepka, venturing to wretched corners of the course. He shot a 74. Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 British Open champion whose career in majors has shone, got to 5 under par at No. 12, within three, but loosed a double bogey upon No. 13, hurling him to five back. Names unseen all week, such as 2019 British Open champion Shane Lowry and Rickie Fowler, began to turn up on the leader board as if having swum in from the Atlantic, what with 2 under par suddenly good for third place.
Mickelson was in the clear. Then he wasn’t quite, when the approach at No. 13 decided it wanted to explore the marsh off the green wall and a seven-foot par putt at No. 14 carried the distinct aura of encroaching death. “I just really tried to stay calm,” he said.
Then his drive on No. 15 zoomed 337 yards straight down the fairway, and his birdie at the par-5 No. 16 looked easy from a foot and a half, and his bogey on No. 17 didn’t matter, and his walk up No. 18 became something else altogether.
— Chuck Culpepper
Read below for more coverage of the PGA Championship’s final round
Phil Mickelson, 50, wins PGA Championship to become oldest men’s major champion
Since 1900, only five players aged 50 or older had held a 54-hole lead at a professional golf major. None of them won, and they combined to shoot 26 over par in their final rounds.
None of them were Phil Mickelson, however, who on Sunday at the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, S.C., completed one of the more improbable accomplishments in a career full of them, becoming the oldest player to win a major title with a two-shot victory over Brooks Koepka and Louis Oosthuizen at the PGA Championship. It was the sixth career major for Mickelson, who turns 51 next month and surpassed Julius Boros, who was 48 when he won the 1968 PGA Championship.
By the 18th hole, when Mickelson’s win was all but secured, the delirious crowd on the course became a swarming throng, tailing Mickelson as he made his way up the final fairway. When his final putt fell to the bottom of the cup, the noise from the crowd, still thinned by the coronavirus pandemic, was a reminder of the before times.
Mickelson, who would not have qualified for the tournament except for his status as a past PGA Championship winner and was somewhere around a 200-to-1 long shot to win at the start of the tournament, began the day with a one-stroke lead over playing partner Brooks Koepka, himself a four-time major winner, and that lead became a one-stroke deficit after the first hole, when Mickelson bogeyed while Koepka birdied. But after a wild stretch of opening holes that featured a handful of two-stroke swings — Koepka missed a three-foot birdie putt at the third hole that seemed to send him spiraling, while Mickelson holed out from the sand at the fifth to send the pro-Phil crowd into a frenzy — he would at various points hold leads of up to five strokes over Koepka and Louis Oosthuizen, who was more or less Mickelson’s main challenger one group ahead of him.
It wouldn’t have been a Mickelson major without some wobbles. Bogeys at 13 and 14, spurred by a questionable-decision approach into the water and then a short missed putt, allowed the trailing pack to remain within sight, and the lead over Oosthuizen and Koepka shrank to two with another bogey at 17. But Mickelson was able to fit in a birdie at the par-5 16th, and from there it was only a matter of time before he was hoisting the enormous Wanamaker Trophy for the second time, nearly 16 years after his first title.
The day had to be deflating for Koepka, even though not much initially was expected of the burly 31-year-old who had serious knee surgery only two months ago. The short missed putt was followed by another a few holes later, and his drives struggled to avoid the sandy areas that litter Pete Dye’s torture chamber (Koepka played the course’s four par 5s at 3 over on Sunday after playing them at 10 under through the first three rounds).
Though he won a regular PGA Tour event as recently as last year, Mickelson entered the tournament on a clear decline and had become known more in recent years among golf fans for his insistence on wearing on-course sunglasses, his peculiar coffee fasts and his affinity for joking about “hitting bombs” and praising his own calves on social media. At 50, he’d even earned the right to play on the PGA Tour’s senior circuit and had played a few events. Now, thanks to perhaps the most improbable win in major-championship history, that elder-statesman tumble might have to wait.
With four holes to play, Phil Mickelson holds a three-stroke lead
Things have gotten a little messy for Phil Mickelson after 14 holes at the PGA Championship, but the five-time major winner still maintains a three-stroke edge on Louis Oosthuizen.
At the par-4 13th, which is playing as the hardest hole on the course Sunday, Mickelson found the greenside water and could only manage a bogey. Then, at the par-3 hole that followed, Mickelson missed a seven-foot par putt after going wide of the green on his tee shot, his fifth bogey of the day against four birdies.
Luckily for Mickelson, the only players who seem to have made charges were those who already were too far back to truly threaten. Rickie Fowler, who needed an exemption to get into the tournament, finished with a 1-under-par 71 and currently sits tied for ninth. He had a par putt at the 18th hole that likely would have earned him a spot in next year’s Masters — the top four finishers at the PGA earn invitations — but he missed it.
Louis Oosthuizen briefly becomes Phil Mickelson’s closest challenger before collapse at 13
Thanks to a daring approach that toyed with the greenside water at the par-4 12th hole, Louis Oosthuizen emerged as the closest competitor to leader Phil Mickelson at the PGA Championship.
For one hole, anyway.
Oosthuizen, the 2010 British Open champion who’s playing in the group ahead of Mickelson, sank his 20-foot birdie putt at the 12th after sending his approach to the right side of the green to get to 5 under par, three strokes behind Mickelson.
But the South African encountered disaster at the par-4 13th, sending his tee shot into some thick vegetation and — after punching back out into the fairway — his third shot into the water to the right of the hole. A drop and two putts later, he had a double-bogey 6 and was five strokes behind Mickelson.
With 10th-hole birdie, Phil Mickelson increases his lead to four shots
After a front nine filled with two-stroke swings, missed three-foot putts and memorable sand saves, Phil Mickelson maintained a two-stroke lead over Brooks Koepka and Louis Oosthuizen in the final round of the PGA Championship.
Mickelson and Oosthuizen played the first nine holes at even-par 36, while Koepka was 1 over par.
Further down the leader board, Kevin Streelman birdied his first two holes to creep up toward the leaders but followed with bogeys on three of the next seven to fall back and now trails Mickelson by four strokes. Irish compatriots Shane Lowry and Padraig Harrington each finished their rounds at 3 under par and currently sit in a tie for fifth. For Harrington, this year’s European Ryder Cup captain, it was his first made cut at a major event since 2016.
At some point in Sunday’s PGA championship final round, Phil Mickelson and Brooks Koepka will play a normal hole where nothing newsworthy happens. Through seven holes, this has yet to happen.
Koepka had played the Ocean Course’s par-5 seventh hole at 4 under par over the first three rounds of the PGA Championship, but he ran into trouble during Sunday’s final round when his second shot was short and well right of the green, landing amid the gallery in some gnarly rough. After pitching the ball in the general direction of the green, Koepka’s fourth shot nearly rolled right off it. His 24-footer for par skidded past the hole and he was left with a delicate five-foot comebacker, which he converted for bogey.
Koepka now has a double bogey and a bogey at par 5s in the final round. He had played them at 10 under over the first three days.
Mickelson also was right of the hole on his approach but his chip was masterful and he sank his birdie putt to retake a two-stroke lead. It was the third two-stroke swing of the round for the final twosome.
Phil Mickelson and Brooks Koepka have played a tournament’s worth of memorable golf in only five holes on Sunday. At the par-3 fifth hole, it was Mickelson’s turn to deliver.
After his tee shot found one of the Ocean Course’s “sandy areas” (no official bunkers at this course), Mickelson stepped up and calmly chipped in for birdie and a two-stroke lead over Brooks Koepka, who could only manage par.
So, to recap: Through only five holes, Koepka has had a pitch move three inches and missed a three-foot birdie putt, while Mickelson saw one of own chips roll meekly back down a hill but then holed out from the sand.
Another flub for Brooks Koepka keeps Phil Mickelson in the lead
Brooks Koepka had a three-foot birdie putt at the third hole that would have given him the lead again over Phil Mickelson, who already had bogeyed the hole.
He missed it.
“It’s like the Twilight Zone out here, you guys,” CBS Sports’ Dottie Pepper said of a two-hole stretch where Koepka had a chip advance about three inches and then missed a putt of about the same length.
Mickelson had his own troubles at the third hole, as his attempt to pitch up a greenside hill never made it up and rolled back down. But thanks to Koepka’s leaky putter, he was able to maintain a one-stroke lead after three holes.
Disaster for Brooks Koepka, birdie for Phil Mickelson at the second hole
Brooks Koepka surrendered the lead he had achieved one hole earlier at the Ocean Course’s par-5 second hole.
After a wayward tee shot, punch-out second shot and too-long third shot, Koepka found himself in a bad lie behind the green. But his attempt to chip it on the green only moved the ball forward a few inches, and Koepka would settle for a double bogey, a rough score on a hole that was playing under par.
The last player to win a major with a double or worse in the final round was Spieth at Chambers Bay.
Phil Mickelson, meanwhile, handled his rough trouble much better and birdied the hole to retake the lead, this time by two strokes. Koepka dropped into a tie for third with Kevin Streelman, who birdied his first two holes, and Louis Oosthuizen.
Brooks Koepka takes the lead over Phil Mickelson after first hole
Mickelson, meanwhile outdrove the fairway into the left rough and only barely managed to get his ball on the green, 57 feet from the hole. His long birdie attempt was well short, not even making it past Koepka’s ball, and the attempt to save par missed the mark.
Trio of South Africans in contention at PGA Championship
Three of the top six golfers on the leader board entering Sunday’s final round at the PGA Championship hail from South Africa: Louis Oosthuizen, Christiaan Bezuidenhout and Branden Grace. They were three of a record 11 golfers from that nation in this year’s field.
“They have great weather there, great courses, some wonderful academies and learning facilities, not only for golf but for all sports. There’s a huge depth of talent in South Africa,” two-time PGA winner Nick Price, who was born in South Africa, told Golf.com’s Michael Bamberger this week.
According to Bamberger, there are only around 150,000 golfers in South Africa, making the glut of contenders at the PGA something of a statistical anomaly from such a small pool of players.
“A lot of us Afrikaners, we love being outdoors, so we’re drawn to golf,” four-time major champion Ernie Els said. “We’re like the Texans that way. A lot of us didn’t speak English that well at first, but we’re not big talkers, so golf suited us that way, too, when we played in junior tournaments.”
Oosthuizen already has a major win on his resume, having won the 2010 British Open at St. Andrews. He also is one of nine golfers to have finished second at all four majors.
Should 50-year-old Phil Mickelson hold on to his lead and win the PGA Championship, he would become the oldest male golfer to win a major by pretty significant margin. Here’s the list of the previous elder statesmen:
Julius Boros, 1968 PGA Championship: 48 years, 4 months, 18 days
Tom Morris Sr., 1867 British Open: 46 years, 3 months, 10 days
Jack Nicklaus, 1986 Masters: 46 years, 2 months, 23 days
Jerry Barber, 1961 PGA Championship: 45 years, 3 months, 6 days
Hale Irwin, 1990 U.S. Open: 45 years, 14 days
Lee Trevino, 1984 PGA Championship: 44 years, 8 months, 18 days
Roberto De Vicenzo, 1967 British Open: 44 years, 3 months, 1 day
Harry Vardon, 1914 British Open: 44 years, 1 month, 10 days
Raymond Floyd, 1986 U.S. Open: 43 years, 9 months, 11 days
Ted Ray, 1920 U.S. Open: 43 years, 4 months, 16 days
A new wind is blowing scores in a different direction
The first three days of the PGA Championship featured persistent easterly winds at the Ocean Course, making for some tough going at the start and end of the course as the players had to hit into the breeze.
But the wind has changed direction for the final round and is now coming out of the west, and the scores have reversed themselves accordingly. The golfers now have the breeze at their back for the first few holes and the last few holes and it certainly seems to be helping.
A number of golfers have some pretty low-scoring rounds going as of this writing, including Abraham Ancer (a bogey-free 7 under, the low round of the tournament), Justin Rose (5 under on his front nine) and Matt Jones, Chan Kim and Byeong Hun An (all 4 under).
The forecast calls for the wind to get stronger as the afternoon moves on, so we’ll see if that affects things further.