Mickelson demolishes age barrier at PGA Championship

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Pro Golf – PGA TOUR

It has always been hard for a player in his 40s to win a Major Championship, a feat accomplished only 21 times since 1960. Until Sunday, it was also considered all but impossible to win a Major in your 50s.

But Phil Mickelson showed it’s possible by holding off major winners, Brooks Koepka and Louis Oosthuizen to win the 2021 PGA Championship at the ridiculously demanding Kiawah Island Ocean course in South Carolina. The record books will show a victory for a 50-year-old, but Mickelson is actually less than a month away from turning 51, so he’s set a high bar.

It is only fitting he did it at the PGA, which, going back to 1960, has been the kindest to older golfers among the four Major Championships. While there have been six instances each of a player aged 40 or older lifting the PGA, British Open and US Open trophies since then, four of the PGA’s six winners have been 44 or older. Those four are among the seven oldest Major Champions ever, with Mickelson now occupying the top spot at 50 years, 11 months, 7 days, having broken the record set by Julius Boros at the PGA in 1968, when he was 48 years, 4 months,18 days old.

In contrast only Robert De Vincenzo (44) at the British Open in 1967 and Hale Irwin (45) at the 1990 U.S. Open were at least 44 years old when they won.

Somewhat surprisingly, The Masters is the hardest of the four majors to win for those over 40. One would think that experience would give older players the edge when playing Augusta every year, but only four men over 40 have picked up a Green Jacket over the last 60 years. And only Jack Nicklaus (46) was older than 44 when he famously charged to victory in 1986.

Mickelson has now won two Majors since turning 40, tied for second most since 1900 with three other players. Jack Nicklaus and Ben Hogan, with three each, are the only two to have won more.

He is also only the 9th player since 1986, when the World Golf Rankings were introduced, to win a Major Championship with a ranking outside the top-100. Mickelson’s ranking was 115 heading into the tournament. He’s now back inside the top-50 at 32.

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Mickelson’s win also raises the question of whether it is still possible for Woods to catch Jack Nicklaus if golfers can win Majors into their 50s. But that remains extremely unlikely, if not impossible. It took 52 years just for someone to break Boros’ record. Woods still needs three Majors just to catch Jack and he will turn 45 in December this year. No player in the history of the game has won more than once after that age, even if Mickelson’s win shows that the window might be wider than we thought. And that’s without factoring in Woods’ long and troubled injury history.

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Meanwhile ESPN reported that Mickelson’s win cost some bookies a pretty penny, as his odds prior to the tournament ranged from around 200-1 to as much as 300-1. DraftKings, a fantasy sports and betting website, said that one person made $300,000 after placing a $1,000 bet on Mickelson to win at 300-1.

And according to ESPN Stats & Information research, Mickelson is also the first golfer since, coincidentally, Louis Oosthuizen in 2010 at the British Open, to win a major at odds of 200-1 or greater.

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Brooks Koepka’s second place finish at the PGA is his fifth top-5 finish at the event over the last seven years, including two wins. He has now finished runner-up at three of the four Majors, with the British Open being the exception. No player has won more than Koepka’s four Majors since he won the US Open in 2017 and no player has more top-10s in Majors than Koepka 10 (in 16 events) since then either. The man is clearly built for golf’s marquee events.

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On the other side of the ledger, Dustin Johnson missed consecutive cuts in the Majors in the same year for the first time. According to CBS, he also became the first No. 1-ranked player since Greg Norman in 1997 to miss the weekend at two consecutive majors. Norman failed to qualify for the weekend at The Masters and U.S. Open that year.

Worse still, as Justin Ray pointed out in a tweet, Johnson now holds the record for most missed cuts in Majors by a World No. 1 since the rankings were introduced in 1986. This was Johnson’s fourth missed cut, breaking a tie with Norman.

 

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