Phil Mickelson did it. Somehow, he did it. Through four brilliant rounds this weekend, he tamed the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Golf Resort, one of the toughest tests in golf. And, given Mickelson's history, every shot was a tension-fueled rollercoaster ride. Even at 50 years old, "Lefty" remains the most entertaining golfer of all-time.
On Sunday, Mickelson faced off with 31-year-old, four-time major winner Brooks Koepka, who joined him in the final pairing. While Koepka fell apart at times, Mickelson kept his cool, something that has been rare in his three decades as a professional. Known almost as much for his epic meltdowns as his successes, he's been one of the most watchable golfers ever, because you never know what you're going to get. That reputation has earned him a ton of fans, as his "go for it" attitude has failed him as much as it has worked.
While Tiger Woods was always dour, quiet, composed, perfectly physically-engineered for the game, Mickelson was more loose about his game, his health and his attitude on the course. He would just try stuff and see what worked. Watching Woods was fun because of how dominant he was, but watching Mickelson was pure entertainment because of his approach.
On Sunday, as he became the oldest golfer to win a major, Mickelson looked calm as ever. He took his time, walked slowly, breathed deeply all weekend and played within himself. He also turned back the clock and hit some bombs, including a 366-yard drive on the par-5 16th hole during Sunday's round. While he had a little help from the wind, it was the longest drive of the week on that hole.
It was Mickelson's sixth major win. It had been eight years since he won his last major at The Open Championship back in 2013. It was also his second PGA Championship, the first came back in 2005 -- 16 years ago.
Watching Mickelson tame the Ocean Course at 50 was one of the most impressive performances I've ever seen on a golf course. That monster is built for the younger generation of players. The wind, thick rough and tough greens made the 2021 PGA Championship a physical test of endurance. He survived and thrived in that environment.
Perhaps most importantly, when his shots were errant he was able to recover, not compound his mistakes. Unlike his disaster at the U.S. Open at Winged Foot in 2006, he wisely guided the ball around the course and survived. During one stretch between Friday and Saturday, Mickelson had 10 birdies during an 18-hole stretch. But once he got up big, he toned it down a bit and played to secure the win.
Mickelson finished 6-under, two shots ahead of Koepka and Louis Oosthuizen who finished at 4-under. The old veteran carded a 1-over 73 on Sunday, playing it tight once he established a four-shot lead midway through the round. But it wasn't without its pitfalls. He found the water on 13, and the deep rough on 17. But he was able to work his way out of serious trouble.
All these years after being a must-watch competitor who played things right up to the edge, his greatest triumph came from playing smart on the final day. That was a scenario few saw coming. Maybe after 50 years, Phil's finally decided to play it safe.
Then again, probably not.