The motto of the PGA Championship is "Glory's Last Shot," which certainly rang true last year for Phil Mickelson who had fared dismally in the previous three majors.
He stumbled to a disappointing 10th in the Masters, finished 33rd in the U.S. Open, tied for 60th in the British Open, but came alive at the PGA. The genial lefty shot his best golf of the season, never failing to come through in the clutch. On the final hole of the tournament with his ball buried so deep in the greenside rough that he needed the aid of a T.V. reporter to find it, Mickelson settled over his daunting lie and coolly chipped it within tapping distance, making birdie and avoiding a three-way playoff with Thomas Bjorn and Steve Elkington.
Illinois's Medinah Country Club will host the 88th edition of Golf's fourth and final major from Aug 17-20. Medinah's world famous #3 course last staged the quest for the Wanamaker trophy seven years ago when Tiger Woods held a muy caliente Sergio Garcia at bay on the back nine on the Sunday to win his first PGA Championship by one-stroke.
While Tiger's 1997 Masters win signaled Woods' arrival as one of golf's green jacket -wearing giants, it was the 1999 PGA Championship that truly ushered in the Tiger era: beginning with the PGA, he would win seven of the next ten majors.
Maybe it's just a cosmic coincidence, but Mickelson who copied Tiger and won his first PGA Championship by a single-stroke has also emerged from the experience as a golfer on the verge of greatness. There isn't even a hint of the chip on his shoulder that hampered the 35-year-old for the bulk of his professional career when he shared the Buffalo Bills' curse of coming so close and falling short on way too many occasions.
Mickelson has proven he now has the mettle to stand up to Sunday pressure. He's not the same gambling golfer of yore going for shots that are just too tough to make. He has purged himself of the old demons, he's stopped beating himself and instead is channeling everything he's got into green hitting field obliterating golf. At the BellSouth Classic in March Mickelson finished an astonishing 28 under par, 13 strokes ahead of runners-up Jose Maria Olazabal and Zach Johnson. Mickelson followed that up with another competition crushing performance in April at the Masters. On Sunday, on the 7th hole, he was deadlocked in a five-way tie for the lead but broke ahead of the horse race by holing back-to-back birdies and then holding steady for a smooth cruise to victory.
Sure, Mickelson suffered a relapse at the U.S. Open in June when he double bogeyed the eighteenth and blew his bid to join Hogan and Woods in the super-exclusive three consecutive majors club. But this was a anomaly, a case of a dastardly course conquering the PGA's best (Winged Foot was so brutal that Tiger Woods was de-clawed: he missed the halfway point cut in a major for the first time in his career as a pro). Even the eventual winner, Geoff Ogilvy could muster no better than a 5-over-par total.
No matter how you view Mickelson's U.S. Open hiccup, he has proven that he is no longer just another member of the Tiger chasing tetra-pack along with Goosen, Singh and Els.
Lefty is now the number-one contender to Tiger's throne. Mickelson leads the PGA birdies per round (4.6) and par breakers with 284 birdies/eagles through 1098 holes (a 25.9% average) and he is my pick to win the PGA Championship.
Still, there's Tiger. After he won the last tournament the course underwent a complete redesign and in preparation for this year's event holes were further fussed over, fine-tuned and extended to toughen up No. 3 into a 7, 561 yard monster, making it the longest course in major championship history. Is Phil worried? Not one iota. He's through wallowing in what could have been at the U.S. Open and after a respectable British Open finish Lefty is inching to return to the top of the leaderboard. This Major has Mickelson's name on it.
This article first ran in the August issue of Belltv Magazine
Copyright © Mike Dojc, 2006