Phil Mickelson wins 2021 PGA Championship, becomes oldest major-winner in history
Phil Mickelson is a major champion. Again. Let that sink in. The 50-year-old Mickelson, ranked 115th in the world, without a top 10 in his last 16 starts and without truly contending in a major championship the past four years did the near-unthinkable on Sunday — he won the 103rd PGA Championship on the Ocean Course on Kiawah Island, S.C.
Mickelson, at 50 years, 11 months and 3 days old, becomes the oldest-ever winner of a major championship, surpassing Julius Boros, who was 48 when he won the 1968 PGA Championship.
Mickelson, playing in the final pairing with Brooks Koepka on Sunday, shot a one-over 73 to finish six under overall, besting Koepka and Louis Oosthuizen by two.
It’s the sixth major title of Mickelson’s career — tying him with fellow greats Lee Trevino and Nick Faldo — and his first since the 2013 Open Championship. He also won the PGA in 2005 and has three Masters titles (2004, 2006, 2010). Only 11 players in golf history now have more major wins than Mickelson.
“It’s been an incredible day, and I’ve not let myself kind of think about the results until now, now that it’s over,” Mickelson said. “I’ve tried to stay more in the present and at the shot at hand and not jump ahead and race. I’ve tried to shut my mind to a lot of stuff going around. I wasn’t watching TV. I wasn’t getting on my phone. I was just trying to quiet things down because I’ll get my thoughts racing and I really just tried to stay calm. I believed for a long time that I could play at this level again.”
To put into context just how unexpected Mickelson’s victory was — besides his 250/1 odds at the beginning of the week — it was only nine days ago when the USGA announced his special exemption into next month’s U.S. Open, since Mickelson hadn’t even qualified. He won’t need that anymore. He’s now exempt for the next five years.
Mickelson entered the round with a one-stroke lead over Koepka — only the fourth player age 50 or older to hold a 54-hole lead or co-lead in a major since 1934 — and was two up on Oosthuizen and three up on Kevin Streelman. Several others were in striking distance early in what turned out to be a blustery final round on the Ocean Course, but the main event was Mickelson vs. Koepka, the former one of the sport’s most beloved figures ever and the latter golf’s most dominant major player of the last four years.
They shocked and thrilled from the start.
Mickelson and Koepka traded leads, or perhaps mistakes, early. Mickelson three-putted for bogey on the 1st hole and Koepka birdied, giving Koepka a one-shot lead, but Koepka drove it in the sand, had to lay up and then two-chipped and two-putted for double bogey on the par-5 2nd. Mickelson countered with a birdie for a three-shot swing and two-stroke lead. Then, playing the drivable par-4 3rd, Mickelson caught a green side wedge fat and had to chip on again, two-putting for bogey. Koepka had a three-footer for what seemed like a routine birdie to tie Mickelson at six under, but he lipped out on the right side and settled for a disappointing par.
“I was not as steady as I had been,” Mickelson said. “I just made a couple uncommitted swings and it led to some inconsistencies in scores because those first four or five holes are not that hard. … And I think Brooks had a couple poor swings, too, and we just weren’t steady. But we seemed to steady it out a little later.”
One of the biggest roars of the day came on the long par-3 5th. Koepka found the green and seemed to have the upper-hand on Mickelson, who was short-sided in a waste bunker. But the short-game wizard chipped in for birdie and sent the gallery into a frenzy. Koepka two-putted for par and saw his deficit slip to two.
Yet that hardly lasted 10 minutes. Mickelson missed the fairway and green on the par-4 6th and made bogey, while Koepka stuck it close and, this time, didn’t miss his short birdie attempt. They were tied at six under, but that didn’t last either. Mickelson birdied the par-5 7th and Koepka bogeyed for another two-shot swing, putting Mickelson ahead by two over Koepka and Oosthuizen.
At that point, through seven holes, Mickelson had played the two par-5s in two under, compared to Koepka’s three over.
Afters pars on 8 and 9, Mickelson picked up two more strokes on 10, when he birdied and Koepka bogeyed, pushing his lead to four. Koepka continued to struggle on par-5s and bogeyed the 11th when he missed a short par putt, but at that point he wasn’t even the top contender anymore. Oosthuizen, in the pairing ahead, made birdie on 12 and got to five under, three behind Mickelson, yet Oosthuizen gave it all right back. His approach into 13 found water right of the green, he made double, and Mickelson’s lead was five with six to play.
But that’s when Mickelson stumbled for the first time on the back nine.
One day after his tee shot on 13 found the water, Mickelson splashed it again — but this time with his approach. He made bogey, then added another bogey when he couldn’t get up and down on the par-3 14th. That left him at six under and three ahead of Oosthuizen, who then birdied the 16th only to have Mickelson match him with a birdie of his own.
Mickelson’s last tough test came on the grueling par-3 17th, but he dodged the water and left himself a chip from above the green. He hacked out from some long grass and two-putted for bogey. He went to the par-4 18th with a two-shot lead over Oosthuizen, who was in the clubhouse at four under, and Koepka, who made birdies on 15 and 16 to get back to four under. But Mickelson found the left rough and then safely hit onto the putting surface, and the spectators filed in behind him as he marched toward the green. Two putts later it was over.
“It’s an incredible experience,” Mickelson said. “I’ve never had something like that [with the gallery following]. It was a little bit unnerving but it was exceptionally awesome, too. So that was kind of a special moment that I’ll be appreciative of the way that people here have supported me and the entire tournament.”
Phil Mickelson — a major champ once again.