Phil Mickelson thrilled a vocal South Carolina crowd by hanging on to win the US PGA last night – and become the oldest Major winner in history.
The American, who turns 51 next month, held his nerve and his game in the blustery wind to shoot a closing 73 to win by two shots amid joyous scenes at Kiawah Island. The chants of “Phil, Phil” rang around Ocean Course.
Like Tiger Woods’ 2019 Masters win, his younger rivals fell away under the pressure of trying to stop a fan favourite lift a fairytale title. Runners-up Brooks Koepka limped home in 74 while Louis Oosthuizen could only finish with a 73.
And Mickelson memorably achieved what fifty-something Greg Norman (2008) and Tom Watson (2009) could not complete after leading after 54 holes at the Open. His victory march to the 18th green was followed by thousands of the excited fans down the fairway in the evening sunshine.
The previous oldest Major winner was Julius Boros, who won the 1968 US PGA aged 48 years and four months.
Late developer Mickelson was 33 when he won his first Major at the 2004 Masters but he now has six – the same as legends Sir Nick Faldo and Lee Trevino. But at the age of 50, this was his greatest and most remarkable.
Mickelson, who had his brother Tim as his caddie, won his second US PGA title at the age of 50 years, 11 months and seven days.
“This is just an incredible feeling because I believed it was possible but yet everything was saying that it wasn’t,” he said. “I hope that others find that an inspiration. It might take a little bit 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 am so appreciatively holding this Wanamaker Trophy.”
He told the fans: “I don’t think I have ever had an experience like that so thank you for that. Slightly unnerving but exceptionally awesome so thank you.
Mickelson has been working on meditation to improve his concentration in his sixth decade.
“I just love this game of golf,” he added. “I love what I do and I love the challenge of competing against such great players.”
In a gripping final round, Mickelson had lost his overnight one-shot lead on the first hole when he three-putted and his playing partner Koepka nailed a 12-foot birdie putt.
But the younger American then took a double bogey at No.2 – he was three-over par on the par-5s – and missed a string of short putts to fall out of contention to win his fifth Major.
Mickelson made three birdies in his rollercoaster front nine to make the turn two clear. He moved four clear of Koepka after No.10 to leave Oosthuizen as his closest rival three shots back. The world No.115 had led by five shots at the same stage in the third round.
The South African then found water on the 13th for the second consecutive running to leave Mickelson five shots clear again.
But the drama was not done. The leader also went into the water on 13 and then missed a short par putt on 14 for consecutive bogeys. Oosthuizen birdied 16 to cut the lead back to two.
Mickelson responded by smashing a 366-yard drive on the 16th – the longest of the week – for another birdie and he parred the final two holes to finish on six-under par.
The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, the longest in Major history, rewarded patience and experience. Ryder Cup captain Padraigh Harrington, who turns 50 in August, shot a closing 69 to finish joint top European with 43-year-old Paul Casey (71) and Shane Lowry in tied fourth.
“He hasn’t lost it, has he?” said the Open champion.
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Rory McIlroy admitted his revamped swing was not yet ready for the severe test of Kiawah Island after failing to break par in any round.
The Ulsterman, who won the 2012 US PGA by eight shots on the Ocean Course, and had been pre-tournament favourite after his recent victory at the Wells Fargo Championship.
But after his closing 72 saw him finish on five-over par, McIlroy said: “I didn’t understand those high expectations. I felt like coming in here, there was still parts of my game that I needed to sharpen up, and obviously those parts were exposed this week in the wind and on a tough course. It’s a trust and a freedom thing.
“At Quail Hollow, you can hit it in trees and get it out. You can’t really do that here. You see hazard on one side and six-foot-high on the other side, it’s hard to bail out anywhere. It was a good test this week to see where I was, and I still have a way to go with everything.”