Where were you the last time Phil Mickelson won a golf tournament? It’s a hard question to answer since it’s been five years.
Yes, that long.
“The American golfer edged out Justin Thomas in Sunday’s playoff round at the WGC-Mexico Championship to earn his first victory since the 2013 British Open at Muirfield,” writes Henry Young of CNN.com.
“It has taken 101 tournaments over the course of almost five years, but the 47-year-old never doubted himself for a second.”
But Mickelson’s drought and his win in playoff fashion means more to the game now than just the Hall of Famer exorcizing demons of tournaments’ past. With Tiger Woods playing a better brand of golf and “Lefty” showing he can still get around a course, the old guard and the new generation could make things very interesting as the PGA heads to Florida in the coming weeks and Augusta National showing the way to The Masters on the horizon.
Golf may be the most exciting it has been in well, five years. And by beating Justin Thomas, regarded as the best at his craft in the world, the oldest man to swing a stick on Sunday became the oldest golfer to win a World Golf Championship event.
Take a step back in time 10 months ago to The Players in Ponte Vedra, Florida. Mickelson was all smiles, complementary of the course changes, acknowledging Father Time may indeed be creeping up on him. How the concentration is there, the swing is still the same and the desire to win is still great. It was vintage Mickelson.
His storied career speaks for itself. He has won 43 events on the PGA Tour, including five major championships: three Masters titles (2004, 2006, 2010), a PGA Championship (2005), and an Open Championship (2013). Mickelson is one of 16 players in the history of golf to win at least three of the four majors. He has won every major except the U.S. Open, where he has finished runner-up a record six times.
Mickelson has spent over 700 weeks in the top-10 of the Official World Golf Ranking, has reached a career-high world ranking of No. 2 several times and is a life member of the PGA Tour. Known for his left-handed swing, even though otherwise right-handed, he was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2012.
And now, there is a chance for more celebration.
“I don’t know what to say,” said Mickelson. “It’s been a tough go the last four years not playing my best, but to have the belief that I was going to get there and to finally break through and do it was incredible.
“I believe that more is to come, and I feel like I’m starting to play some of my best golf. To culminate here in Mexico City with a World Golf Championship victory is exciting to me beyond words because it just validates the hard work I put in and the struggle for the last few years to finally get my game back.”
Mickelson is every golfer who ever swung a club. He is likeable. He is jovial. He has the pretty wife and the beautiful family. And he is one of the best of his generation. If you want to know how “big” a deal the win in Mexico City is, take this into account.
Thomas – has won seven PGA Tour titles in his last 32 starts. In some circles, that could be considered dominance given the field for events and the play of the like of Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm, Patton Kizzire and Brendan Steele. As Young explained, it’s a testament to the magnitude of his return to golf’s grand stage.
Thomas, the Fedex Cup leader, played his final 36 holes in 16 under, tying the all-time weekend record on the PGA Tour. And he still lost.
“If you’d told me I’d be in a playoff after two rounds, I would have told you you’re lying,” said Thomas, who would have become the first player since David Duval in 1997 to win consecutive PGA Tour events in playoffs.
“But I played unbelievable golf these past two days. I’m probably more proud of myself than I ever have been.”
And he should be. If not for his opponent and the buzz of potential history, the weekend belonged to the 24-year-old who was less than a year old when Mickelson turned pro. Thomas will get back on the course and challenge the best in the world again. He has his career ahead of him. For Mickelson, wins are rare and rightfully celebrated.
“Congrats Phil Mickelson! From Murifield to Mexico, it’s great to have you holding a trophy again,” tweeted Jack Nicklaus. “Fantastic event, fantastic time for golf and the PGA Tour!”
Now that he has notched another win, the question becomes can Mickelson win 50 tournaments? It’s not out of reach, but it would take a Herculean effort to make that happen. Maybe not that great, just the kind of effort he put forth this weekend in Mexico, the kind of effort that led to victory.