2021 PGA Championship scores: Phil Mickelson remains in improbable contention with 69 in Round 2 at Kiawah

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 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. The entire sequence defies belief.

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 will likely get him into one of the final two tee times in Round 3 on Saturday afternoon.

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.

Of all the golfers who completed two rounds at the time Mickelson finished up on Friday morning, nobody was striking it better than Lefty was. The putter has been middle-of-the-pack, which is fine when you’re the best ball-striker in the field thus far. With the way he’s hitting it, though, if the putter starts clicking, 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).

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. Even if he finishes 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.

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, 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, though, and the only question now is how long it can last.

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