Phil Mickelson’s bid for history has reverberated well beyond the golf world.
Tom Brady, who three months earlier became the oldest person to ever play in a Super Bowl — let alone win one — was tuned in Saturday to watch the 50-year-old Mickelson hold off the field in the PGA Championship, where he is 18 holes away from becoming the oldest champion in majors history.
“He’s so committed and such a great athlete, it’s a pleasure to see him compete,” the 43-year-old Brady wrote Saturday in a text message to the Los Angeles Times. “His love of the game is inspiring for us all and he is always looking for ways to improve mentally, physically and emotionally! Just great to watch.”
A year ago Monday, Brady and Mickelson were paired in The Match: Champions for Charity, a made-for-TV event against Peyton Manning and Tiger Woods at The Medallist in Hobe Sound, Fla. Manning and Woods won the playful showdown, which raised $20 million for coronavirus relief.
It’s serious business now for Mickelson, who heads into Sunday’s final round with a one-shot lead over Brooks Koepka, looking to win the tournament for the third time in four years.
Mickelson, who turns 51 next month, is the oldest player with a 54-hole lead in a major since 59-year-old Tom Watson at Turnberry in 2009. Watson lost that British Open to Stewart Cink. The oldest player to win a major was Julius Boros, who was 48 when he won the 1968 PGA Championship.
“If he’s able to pull this off, I think it gets ranked up there with some of the great wins in history of the game, no question,” said CBS announcer Jim Nantz. “I’m already getting a lot of texts from people that are saying, ‘Wow, where does this rank? Is it Tiger 2019? Is it Jack ‘86?’” — references to legendary Masters victories by Woods and Nicklaus — “I mean, if it happens, it’s going to be on that shortlist. It would be one of the epic moments in the history of the game, and that’s not hyperbole.”
Mickelson, whose last victory in a major came at the 2013 British Open, has not had a top 20 finish in the last 10 months.
Despite losing a five-shot lead in the span of five holes on the back nine — at one point going bogey, double bogey — Mickelson steadied himself with pars on his last five holes, including a signature flop shot to get up and down on No. 18.
He said he’s not concerned about pushing too hard Sunday, or wanting it too bad.
“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 and not get ahead of myself,” he said.
“And so I think that’s a big part of it. I think certainly my brother has played a big part in kind of keeping me present and in the moment and not letting a couple of bad swings affect me here or there, and so I think we’re having so much fun that it’s easy to stay present.”
Jordan Spieth, 27, was born in 1993, the year Mickelson played in his first PGA Championship. Spieth, who has won each of the other three majors, said he isn’t surprised that Mickelson is making things so interesting.
“Yeah, it’s Phil, right,” he said. “It’s theatre. It’s just — I mean, I don’t watch golf but I promise you I’m going to turn it on to watch him today. It’s pretty incredible.”