KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. – Phil Mickelson will be in the final group of the PGA Championship on Saturday, a surprise given his recent form and problems with many aspects of his game.
Jason Day had a simple explanation.
“There weren’t any bad balls,” said Day, who played with Mickelson on the first two rounds of the Ocean Course. ”
Much like Thursday, Mickelson started slowly on Friday, then rallied over the final nine holes and shot a 3-under-par-69 that included a front-nine (his final) 31 to 36 holes at 139.5 under par to be completed. He led for hours in the clubhouse before being overtaken by Louis Oosthuizen, who linked up with Mickelson after doing his only bogey of the day on the 18th.
Two-time PGA Champion Brooks Koepka, recovering from a knee injury, finished a shot back while Masters Champion Hideki Matsuyama tied two strokes behind the leaders for the fifth time with Branden Grace and Christiaan Bezuidenhout.
Mickelson, 50, wanted to be the first player 50 years or older with a 36-hole lead in a major championship since Fred Couples, who was 50 when he ran the 2012 Masters. Sam Snead was the last to do this at the PGA when he was 54 years old in 1966. The oldest player to win a major championship was Julius Boros, who was 48 years old when he won the PGA championship in 1968.
“I have a lot of fun and to play well, to know that I play well into the weekend, to fight, to have a good opportunity, I have a great time,” said Mickelson. “I’m looking forward to the weekend. That was a lot of fun.”
Mickelson hit 11 out of 14 fairways, a big factor in his success on a wind-blown course that caused all sorts of dismay. However, with a 7:49 a.m. ET start time of 10th place, Mickelson and his group, which included Day and Padraig Harrington, managed to hit the treacherous last four holes of the last 9 before the wind got worse.
Even so, Mickelson did 17th and 18th bogey to shoot 38 in the back and fall to an even level for the tournament. But he flipped it on the first nine with birdies on the second, fourth, fifth, seventh, and ninth holes, the last coming after rolling in a 22-foot putt.
Mickelson hit 12 of 18 greens and only needed 27 putts in the first two rounds.
“I think he thinks he can do it in these conditions, just like me,” said Padraig Harrington, the three-time grand winner, who took the 2008 PGA and is five shots behind Mickelson, on par with Mickelson. “I think, like me, Phil would find it easier to compete on this golf course all the time in a big tournament under these conditions.
“You can be patient in these courses and of course you have to do some birdies, but it suits someone who is a player, someone who is thinking.”
And that has been a problem for Mickelson lately. He complained several times about his inability to concentrate properly. The five-time major champion, who won the PGA in 2005, topped the Wells Fargo Championship two weeks ago with a 64. Then he shot 75, 76 and 76 points, dropping to 69th place.
In conditions that would seemingly put this focus to the test, Mickelson succeeds despite slow starts. On Thursday Mickelson turned four of his first six holes; Friday he had three bogies over his top nine. He rebounded by 32 points on Thursday ninth and 31 points on Friday on the front.
“I’m working on it,” said Mickelson. “I keep making progress just by trying to lengthen my focus.” I could try to play 36, 45 holes in a day and focus on every stroke so I don’t feel like it is that much when I play 18. I could try to lengthen the amount of time I meditate, but I try to use my mind like a muscle and just expand it because it was harder for me to maintain sharp focus as I got older, a good visualization and see the recording.
“Physically, I feel like I’m able to get and hit the shots I’ve done throughout my career, and I feel like I can do it as well as I do, but I have to do this Have a clear picture So the first two days were much better. ”
Mickelson, who is ranked 115th in the world, does not have a top 10 result in 2021, his best is 21st place at the Masters. The last time he competed was when he finished second in the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational in August.
The last of his 44 PGA Tour wins came at the 2019 AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. Mickelson has not had a top 10 result in a major championship since he finished second behind Henrik Stenson at the 2016 Open.