Phil Mickelson closing in on history heading into Sunday showdown
Phil Mickelson leads by one heading into Sunday at the PGA Championship.
And yes, it’s 2021.
“I think that because I feel or believe that I'm playing really well and I have an opportunity to contend for a major championship on Sunday and I'm having so much fun that it's easier to stay in the present,” said Mickelson, “and not get ahead of myself.”
The 2005 PGA Champion continued his turn-back-the-clock effort at the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Saturday with a 2-under 70. He leads two-time PGA Champion Brooks Koepka by one heading into Sunday’s finale.
Mickelson raced out to a hot start in the third round, going out in a 4-under 32. He had, at one point, played 18 holes of the Championship at 10-under. But Pete and Alice Dye’s South Carolinian masterpiece snuck up on Mickelson early in the back nine.
After he made a birdie on the par-4 10th – he knocked a wedge from 117 yards to just 10 feet – he couldn’t convert a 7-footer for birdie on the par-5 11th.
He bogeyed No. 12 and then made double bogey on 13 after hitting it into the water off the tee.
“It’s just an example of losing the feel and the picture of the shot, and I get a little bit jumpy, a little bit fast from the top, and it just... when that happens, I get narrow, and I end up flipping it,” said Mickelson. “So those two swings were more a product of not staying or keeping the feel and the focus of the shot. And so that's just a small little thing that I need to iron out.”
Still, Mickelson, who hasn’t had a top-10 finish at a major championship since 2016 (and no top-10 results on the PGA Tour so far this season) wasn’t fazed.
He righted the ship and parred his final five holes Saturday and now, just three years after the golf world got a Tiger Woods/Brooks Koepka battle at the PGA Championship at Bellerive Country Club it will get treated to a Phil Mickelson/Brooks Koepka battle.
Koepka, who is looking to win his third PGA Championship in four years, also shot a 2-under 70 on Saturday. He has been T4 or better after 13 of the last 14 rounds at the PGA Championship.
Koepka, 20 years Mickelson’s junior, said he’s embracing the opportunity to be in the final group on Sunday with one of golf’s finest elder statesmen.
“It’s nice,” said Koepka. “Like I said, I can see what he's doing, and everybody else is in front of me, so I'll have a good idea on the leaderboard what's going on and just need to putt better. Simple. If I strike it anything like I did the last three days, I'll have a chance.”
But back to Mickelson, who has even caught the eye of Ryder Cup captain Steve Stricker. Although Stricker was mum on whether Mickelson was in the conversation to be a Captain’s Pick for this year’s team, Stricker couldn’t help but heap praise on his fellow over-50.
“It’s impressive when you've got a 50-year-old leading at the top of the leaderboard. But he's a special player. He's one of the greatest players in the game, in the history of the game, and he's kept his health and his flexibility, and he still hits it long enough to compete,” said Stricker. “It's pretty cool to see him up there at the top.”
So yes, you read all that right: In the 2021 PGA Championship’s final round, it’s the 50-year-old Phil Mickelson leading the field, and looking to make history.