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Mac Engel: Phil Mickelson eclipses Tiger Woods, and it only took 50 years to do it
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Mac Engel: Phil Mickelson eclipses Tiger Woods, and it only took 50 years to do it

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Phil Mickelson of the United States celebrates with the Wanamaker Trophy after winning during the final round of the 2021 PGA Championship held at the Ocean Course of Kiawah Island Golf Resort on May 23, 2021 in Kiawah Island, South Carolina. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images/TNS)

For one glorious afternoon Lefty’s Blue was just as pretty as Tiger Red, and he was the most inspiring golfer, and athlete, in the world.

It took nearly 51 years on this earth, but on Sunday Phil Mickelson was not only Tiger Woods’ equal but also his superior.

For four days on a ceaselessly windy course in South Carolina, Phil was not only better than Tiger but Jack, Arnie, Hogan and Bobby Jones, too.

Whatever Phil Mickelson does when he comes to the Charles Schwab Challenge this week at Colonial Country Club, or any other tournament, for the rest of his life is just a pile of gravy on top of a gravy smothered chicken fried steak.

He doesn’t need it, because he’s done all of it now in a way previously never achieved.

And all of us who watch, and play, sports owe him a note of thanks.

Growing older doesn’t mean sports ends, if you just keep going. If you just keep playing.

Hell, who knows? You might just win something.

Tom Brady has embarrassed the age of 40, and now Phil Mickelson just took a 9-iron to 50.

We should not forget what Serena Williams and Roger Federer did to the wrong side of 35 in tennis, too.

On Sunday afternoon at the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, the second most celebrated golfer of his generation became the oldest player to ever win a major.

Previously, the oldest player to win a major was Julius Boros, who in 1968 won the PGA Championship when he was 48 years and four months old.

It was perfect theater for Mickelson to win a major on a course that was featured in the theater; the ocean course at Kiawah Island was used for the 2000 film, “The Legend of Bagger Vance,” which was directed by Robert Redford, and starred Matt Damon, Will Smith and Charlize Theron.

I’m one of five people who enjoyed that film, but it was slightly less plausible than what Phil did on Sunday.

It was a big deal with Jack Nicklaus won the Masters in 1986, when he was 46. It was historic when Tiger won the Masters in 2019, because he was coming off an assortment of injuries, and he was 43.

Now here is Phil, who has already won tournaments on the old man’s tour (PGA Tour Champions), bagging the 2021 PGA Championship just weeks away from turning 51.

The combination of “Phil Mickelson age” was trending on Google.

For a player whose legacy for so long was coming close and ultimately coming apart on Sundays, which was a part of his charm, every bounce, chip and putt were aligned at Kiawah.

The 2021 PGA Championship is his sixth major title, and first since he won the 2013 British Open. That was when he was 43, and at “the end” of winning majors.

Golfers don’t win majors after 43. They play golf, but they don’t win majors.

Over the last few years, Phil was just playing, and yet his popularity somehow soared like one of his bombs off the tee.

The masses flock to Tiger because he’s so dominant, but they love Phil because he acknowledges them with a smile, his sense of humor, a nod and a thumbs up.

When his round started on Sunday there was a nervous energy beginning with his first swing. Everyone watching, most notably every single person who works for CBS Sports and the PGA Tour, wanted Phil to win.

The PGA Tour’s duo of Tiger and Phil is just about over, and one of these two playing a relevant round on a Sunday at a major is like finding a five suitcases stuffed with $100s underneath the couch.

The first hole looked like a guy who was 50 who was playing one round too many. He bogeyed No. 1 to fall into a tie with Brooks Koepka.

But the more the pair played, it was Koepka who looked like 50, and Phil was 30 again.

On No. 5, Mickelson chipped it in from the sand trap for a birdie to drop to 7-under par.

The shot prompted a “Wow!” from venerable CBS broadcaster Verne Lundquist. It was Lundquist who was on the call at the ‘86 Masters when he narrated Jack Nicklaus’ famous putt with the immortal line, “Maybe ... YES SIR!”

While Mickelson either parred or birdied, Koepka did neither. Five times on the front nine Phil enjoyed a two-shot difference.

By No. 12, Phil was in first place with second five shots back.

It was No. 13 and No. 14 when Phil scared everyone, most notably what appeared to be a crowd that was pass-out level drunk. He bogeyed both, and while Koepka never did get it together, Louis Oosthuizen did.

A five-shot lead on 13 was cut to two by 16. Playing next to the beach and its irrational winds, any rational thinker thought, “Here it comes. Fifty.”

On No. 16, Phil pulled out a birdie via a brilliant chip to extend the lead to three with two to play.

Playing one of the hardest courses in the world, no one at the top made a closing charge, and Mickelson’s Sunday 1-over par was good enough to win by two.

As a result, after eight years since he won his last major, he did it again.

The second most celebrated golfer of his generation no longer has to be Tiger, because Phil at 50 is the best ever.

 

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