Phil Mickelson edges Justin Thomas in playoff for first PGA Tour win since 2013
Lefty took down the world's hottest player in a sudden death playoff at the WGC-Mexico Championship
After nearly 100 PGA Tour events and 1,700 days, Phil Mickelson is back on top once again. As is usually the case with Lefty, his first victory since 2013 did not come easy as he edged Justin Thomas in the first sudden death playoff hole at the 2018 WGC-Mexico Championship after a wild ride down the back nine.
Sunday's early narrative seemed too easy with the oldest player in the field (Mickelson, 47) going heads up with the youngest (Shubhankar Sharma, 21) in the event's final group. Then that story was upended by, where he holed out for eagle and a 64 to set the clubhouse lead at 16 under.
But Mickelson, ever the producer of great drama, birdied two of his final four holes to sneak into a playoff with Thomas after a 4-foot par putt on the 72nd hole complete his 5-under 66. From there, Mickelson made par at the par-3 17th (the first playoff hole), Thomas made bogey, and Mickelson took the tournament. It almost ended earlier than that, though. Mickelson missed, by the narrowest of margins, making a long birdie which would have brought the house down.
The win is the 43rd of Mickelson's historic PGA Tour career, but it's his first since 2013 when he won The Open Championship at Muirfield. It's his first WGC win since 2009 and the first time he's touched a trophy in 97 PGA Tour events and 102 combined worldwide starts spanning 1,687 days. En route to the victory, all Mickelson had to do was beat the hottest player in the world head-to-head.
As good as Thomas was on the weekend -- a 62-64 close ties the PGA Tour record for two-round score to end an event -- Mickelson was nearly his equal. He didn't quite require the fire Thomas needed to grab the win, but he shot a righteous 65-66 to pull off the victory.
Mickelson hit balls out of the brush, made lengthy birdie putts and fed his famous flop shots to the masses. It was the perfect Mickelson experience both on and off the course. When he wasn't giving his trademark thumbs up to the Mexican crowds (believe that one crosses language barriers), he was putting his arm around tournament brass during the playoff. He spoke Spanish (at least I think it was Spanish), charmed patrons and finally (finally!) got back in winner's circle.
In those 97 starts since his last win, Mickelson has nearly as many missed cuts (15) as he does top 10s (19). Despite the trappings of being Phil Mickelson and close calls at multiple major championships, Mickelson noted after the win that it's been a hard roll for him.
"I don't know what to say. It's been a tough go the last four year, not playing my best," Mickelson told Steve Sands of NBC. "To have the belief that I was going to get there, to finally break through and do it feels incredible. I believe more is to come. I feel like I'm starting to play some of my best golf. To culminate here in Mexico City with a WGC victory is exciting to me beyond words because it just validates the hard work I've put in and the struggle for the last few years to finally get my game back."
The beauty of Mickelson at this age is not that he's as good as he was when he was younger. It's that he's still chasing that elusive perfect shot or perfect round or perfect event. This is the thrill of golf for patrons of all ages, abilities and income levels, and a five-time major winner like Mickelson is not immune.
"The thing about it is I love the challenge," Mickelson added to NBC. "It's been a difficult go. I enjoy that challenge. To have something like this today makes it all worthwhile. It's beyond belief.
"If you look at what Justin Thomas did this weekend, shooting 16 under on this golf course ... I know, respect and admire how great these young players are. And yet I welcome and cherish the opportunity to compete agains them. To have a little taste of success this year is really encouraging."
It's hard to conjure up feelings of sorrow for a man who makes $50 million a year, but Mickelson made it easy when he was upended in various tournaments by all manner of golfers. There were a lot of valleys, for sure, but there were also six runner-up finishes.
Finally, he struck pay dirt again, and despite his level of fame and wealth, you could tell it meant the world to Lefty just to be able to say that once again, for one week, nobody in golf was better.
"I try to look calm on the outside but inside I'm shaking," said Mickelson. "I enjoy that. That's what was so fun. All those nerves you feel, I haven't felt that in a long time."
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