2021 PGA Championship scores: Phil Mickelson improbably atop leaderboard, but will he actually win?

Phil Mickelson’s name belies the improbability of him contending at the 103rd PGA Championship. Because he is famous and popular and not yet at the point of his career where he’s only a part-time PGA Tour player, it does not seem absurd that he’s in the mix for the PGA Championship at the Ocean Course on Kiawah Island after shooting a 69 in the second round on Friday at Kiawah Island.

I’m here to tell you: It’s absurd.

It’s absurd that Mickelson shot 70 on Thursday, and it’s even more absurd that he went out on Friday and backed it up with the early 69 in Round 2 to get in the house going to the weekend at 5 under. It’s absurd that he played the back nine on Thursday in 32, and it’s absurd that he played the front nine on Friday in 31. It’s absurd that he’s tied with Louis Oosthuizen and playing in the final pairing on Saturday.

The entire sequence defies belief.

It’s why Mickelson, despite being tied atop the leaderboard after 36 holes, is fourth on the odds board at 12-1, according to William Hill Sportsbook.

After he flirted with the lead early on Friday, hope seemed snuffed out with a bogey-bogey finish on Nos. 17 and 18 (Mickelson started on No. 10). But he torched the front nine, hitting seven of nine greens and rolling in a 22-footer at the last for the 69 that got him into that pairing with King Louis.

We have recent evidence that Mickelson has amazing rounds still there — somewhere in the depths of his fading, historic game. He shot 64 in the first round of the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow Club a few weeks ago, but he also followed that with a 75-76-76 finish. This week? Well, it has felt and looked very different.

Through two rounds, only four golfers have been better from tee to green. The putter has been pretty solid thru 36 holes as well, which means it might be time to talk about whether Mickelson can join the group of 13 golfers who have won six or more majors (Lefty currently has five, including one PGA Championship).

History says no, this cannot happen. Mickelson, who turns 51 later this year, would also be the oldest major champion by a wide margin if he somehow goes on to close this thing out.

I tend to agree with history. It’s been a nice story thus far, but to do it for two more days with the ball-strikers he’s going against like Brooks Koepka (1 back), Hideki Matsuyama (2 back) and Bryson DeChambeau (4 back)? It’s probably too big of an ask for somebody of his age, even for a wondrous champion like Lefty. 

Even if Mickelson manages to finish in the top 10, it would be his first such finish at a major since he got the worst-luck draw in major history against Henrik Stenson at the 2016 Open Championship at Royal Troon.

The big question for him now is whether he can mentally grind out two more rounds at a taxing Ocean Course that Bryson DeChambeau said was the most challenging he’s ever played on the PGA Tour. Lefty has talked extensively over the last few months about how difficult it is for him to stay mentally engaged for 72 holes. That gets exacerbated at major championships where one bad swing could mean three lost shots.

“I might try to play 36, 45 holes in a day and try to focus on each shot so that when I go out and play 18, it doesn’t feel like it’s that much,” said Lefty of his recent prep work. “I might try to elongate the time that I end up meditating, but I’m trying to use my mind like a muscle and just expand it because as I’ve gotten older it’s been more difficult for me to maintain a sharp focus, a good visualization and see the shot.

“Physically, I feel like I’m able to perform and hit the shots that I’ve hit throughout my career. I feel like I can do it every bit as well as I have, but I’ve got to have that clear picture and focus. So these first two days have been much better.”

Regardless, his 36-hole showing has been a treat. Phil Mickelson, age 50, with 30 years of evidence that he’s one of the wildest drivers of the golf ball in the history of the sport among the best players, is just dissecting a golf course that’s mentally and physically demanding.

The history books might not disclose how preposterous this entire thing is because the name will match up with the feat when we look back on it, but 50-year-old golfers don’t contend at Kiawah. They don’t win majors. They don’t do this.

Mickelson is doing all of that right now, though, and the only question left is how long it will last.

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85 thoughts on “2021 PGA Championship scores: Phil Mickelson improbably atop leaderboard, but will he actually win?

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