Mickelson and Koepka
May 23: Nothing came out more starkly than the fact that you cannot change Phil Mickelson in any competitive situation and you cannot mentally break Brooks Koepka, no matter how uncomfortable he is.
On the third day of the 2021 PGA Championship at the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, when his one-time 5-shot lead shrunk to just one, Mickelson was still having fun, waving and smiling. He managed to keep his focus, too, even when he saw a drone up at one point and asked a spotter to get it out of the way of the golf ball’s flightpath! When he faced a probable closing bogey right at the end, he hit a highly risky flop shot to four feet to can it for a. par and the sole lead. A man who loves his trips to the casino cannot be expected to go for anything but broke. That’s Phil Mickelson.
As for Koepka, he could barely bend. Neither to read the putts on the Ocean Course at Kiawah, nor to pick the ball from the hole. Yet, he did both, enduring the pain and continued his way despite a 3-putt bogey at the last. He is now one shot behind Mickelson.
If the 50-year-old Mickelson is looking to become the first man past the half century to hoist a Major trophy, Koepka is seeking to become only sixth man to win the PGA at least three times, and the ninth to have won the same Major three times in a four-year stretch.
Mickelson has five Majors among his 44 PGA titles and Koepka has four in his eight PGA Tour wins.
With his adrenaline rushing, Mickelson seemed to be running away with the tournament. He had a fast start with birdies on the second, third, sixth and seventh to turn in 4-under. He added a fifth birdie on 10th and the lead was suddenly five shots. But then Championships don’t get over after 46 holes. There were eight more left in the third round and a full 18 on the final day.
Just as he ran into a flood of birdies on the first 10 holes, it became a drought over the last eight. Errors piled up. He missed a seven-foot birdie on 11; and on 12 he went into the bunker and came out with a bogey. A trip to the water on 13 cost him dearly. Mickelson hit his tee shot on 13th into the water and his third shot, after the penalty, went under the tyre of a cart. He also missed a 12-footer for bogey to endure a double bogey.
Koepka rushed in with birdies as Mickelson leaked shots. The lead started shrinking. But Koepka, himself troubled by the knee, gave away a crucial bogey on 18th where he 3-putted.
At 7-under 209 Mickelson is the oldest leader after 54 holes since the 59-year-old Tom Watson led at the Open at Turnberry in 2009. Watson subsequently lost in a four-hole play-off to Stewart Cink.
Mickelson, meanwhile, can set a new mark overtaking previous oldest Major winner, Julius Boros, who was 48 when he won the 1968 PGA Championship.
Koepka has time and again said that Majors excite him. Little wonder then his record at Majors is fantastic – four wins out his eight PGA Tour successes have come at Majors. The ligament surgery on his right knee was causing him obvious discomfort, but he gritted his way through. After all this is a Major.
Louis Oosthuizen’s bogeys on 13th and 17th came in the way of him catching up with Koepka, who is one ahead, and Mickelson, who is two clear. At third, Oosthuizen, always a gritty customer, could be the factor that slips past as most eyes are focussed on Mickelson and Koepka.
Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama (76) had a great start and nightmarish back nine. A 2-under 34 was followed by 6-over 42 back nine. Barring a miracle, he is out of the mix.
Asia’s best hope is Korea’s Sungjae Im, who shot 73 and is T10. He would rue his bogeys on 17 and 18. After rounds of 70-72-73 Im is 1-under and six behind Mickelson.
Jordan Spieth needing a PGA Championship to complete a Career Slam, shot 68, which matched the day’s low score, but at even par, he is T-13 and more importantly seven behind Mickelson. That may be a lot of distance to make up.
Hey, who knows, what the Ocean Course has in store for the golfers and us. The final round can’t come sooner.