Phil Mickelson on fire after classy second round at US PGA Championship
For much of an enthralling second round at the 103rd US PGA Championship on Friday, the wonderfully romantic notion of Phil Mickelson being crowned as the oldest major champion in history on Sunday gripped the noisy crowd.
As the sun melted towards the horizon, however, realism showed up in the menacing form of a formidable trio to threaten Mickelson’s impossible dream. What a final two rounds we have in store, therefore, as the senior fairytale meets the modern machine head on.
When the dust had settled, the five under halfway pace set by Mickelson during the morning wave had been matched by former Open Champion Louis Oosthuizen, who played beautifully until missing a short putt at the 18th.
Phil Mickelson heads into the weekend’s action at the US PGA Championship joint-top
Mickelson sits joint top with South Africa’s Louis Oosthuizen at the halfway stage
Brooks Koepka is one adrift of both Mickelson and Oosthuizen at Kiawah Island
Then come the X-men in the form of Brooks Koepka and Masters Champion Hideki Matsuyama, who’s clearly been inspired rather than sated by claiming his green jacket. Koepka (71) is one behind, with Matsuyama (68) just two adrift, and don’t forget Bryson DeChambeau (71) either. Despite a poor finish, he’s only four back.
The performance of the day, though, belonged to the remarkable Mickelson, and never mind that he turns 51 next month. After starting from the 10th, he came home in just 31 shots with four birdies in his last six holes, including one at the 9th. When that one fell below ground, the noise was so loud it felt that golf was finally back, and the tribulations of the past year were beating a hasty retreat. Yes, Phil the thrill was up to his old tricks again.
‘I expect him to contend over the weekend and I wouldn’t put it past him to be standing here on Sunday night with the Wanamaker trophy,’ said his playing partner, Europe’s Ryder Cup captain Padraig Harrington. ‘He has the bit between his teeth and he believes he can do it in these conditions. Even second would be a disappointment to Phil.’
Mickelson, for his part, gave a cute response when asked about his lofty status at halfway. ‘If it was Sunday night and you’d told me that I was leading then I’d really have enjoyed that, but right now it’s nothing more than a great deal of fun,’ he said.
Mickelson followed up his opening round of 70 with a 69 on another wild day at Kiawah Island
Five-time major champion Mickelson has been rolling back the years so far this week
As ever, it was fun watching him, with his enormous gallery – are there really only 10,000 people allowed in here? – revelling in his magic. On an Ocean Course that places enormous strain on the scrambling abilities of every player, we’ve been treated to another exquisite demonstration from the man with arguably the greatest short game of all.
From his side of the draw, Mickelson finished with a two stroke advantage over South Africans Branden Grace and Christiaan Bezuidenhout. Paul Casey, runner-up last year, will have a chance to go one better after a second successive 71 to be three back.
Rory McIlroy mustered a decent fightback, too, well at least until becoming one more victim over the closing stretch, as he bogeyed the final three holes. He finished with a 72 to finish on three over.
It was at the US PGA in 1968 that 48 year old Julius Boros became the oldest major winner. In the last 15 years, the fiftysomethings have certainly had their moments. Greg Norman, aged 53, led the Open after three rounds at Birkdale in 2008 before settling for tied third.
As ever, it was fun watching Mickelson, with his enormous gallery revelling in his magic
The following year, there was Tom Watson’s heartbreaking near miss at the age of 59. If a man in his fifties does ever win a major, it will surely happen on a links course where distance is less a factor, or a faux-links such as this one.
Mickelson and Harrington first met when they were on opposing sides at the 1991 Walker Cup at Portmarnock and they’ve gone on to win eight majors between them.
It’s not just Mickelson who can still play, either. Harrington actually looked as if he would end up with a better score until he made a mess of the easier downwind holes to complete his round. After starting from the 10th, Mickelson came home in 31 shots with four birdies in his last six holes. Harrington, who turns 50 in August, played the same stretch in two over to finish with a 73 to be six behind.
The conditions took their toll on some of the biggest names, with both world number one Dustin Johnson and number two Justin Thomas failing to make the weekend. Johnson’s first major in his home state ended like his Masters defence last month. He’s the first world number one to miss consecutive cuts in majors since Norman way back in 1997.
Jordan Spieth had endured two of the worst putting rounds of his career to be on four over par
There was no need to look hard to see where much of the damage was inflicted. There was hardly a player in the field who didn’t have lumps taken out of them by the tortuous five hole finishing stretch. A couple of the tees were moved up but it still didn’t deliver much comfort.
Everybody else’s misery paled, however, when compared to poor American Cameron Tringale. The 33 year old Californian was just two off the lead standing on the 14th tee. He walked off the 18th green 15 shots behind Mickelson and out of the tournament. He had a six on one par three, a seven on another and a ten on a par five. What a game.
Sadly, the wind is due to switch on Saturday and the final five holes will lose their teeth. It will be sweet relief, mind, for the men who will have to play them.
Ian Poulter must have been the only man disappointed with a 70, but he’s just six off the lead