Mickelson breaks through at WGC-MexicoLefty ends nearly five-year winless streak with win in Mexico City
March 04, 2018
By Cameron Morfit, PGATOUR.COM
Phil Mickelson wins Mexico Championship
MEXICO CITY — They called him Felipe. They said they loved him, and photo-shopped his face on a man in a bumblebee outfit from a long-ago Mexican TV show. They called him “Pheeeel,” as in “Venga, Pheeeel!” and exhorted him from the middle of a hedge to the middle of the fairway.
Phil Mickelson, the oldest man in the field at 47, ended a nearly five-year winless drought when Justin Thomas couldn’t save par from behind the 17th green in a playoff on Sunday afternoon at the World Golf Championships-Mexico Championship.
The crowd erupted and Mickelson, whose 66 was just good enough to force extra holes, hugged his brother and caddie, Tim. The winner shook hands with Thomas; was congratulated by tournament officials and waiting friends Jon Rahm and Brendan Steele; and was swarmed by fans as he made his way to a golf cart to catch a ride up the steep 18th fairway toward the waiting Gene Sarazen trophy.
Phil as a bumblebee? Not as crazy as you might think. 😂😂 pic.twitter.com/IECfrTsijn— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) March 4, 2018
The 43rd PGA TOUR victory is always the hardest.
“This is a very meaningful win,” said Mickelson, who moves to third in the FedExCup. “I can't really put it into words, given the tough times over the last four years, and the struggle to get back here and knowing that I was able to compete at this level but not doing it, and the frustration that that led to. To finally break through and to have this validation means a lot to me.”
Mickelson not only broke a 96-tournament winless streak, but he became the oldest winner of a World Golf Championships event at 47 years, eight months, 16 days, surpassing Vijay Singh, who was 45 when he won the 2008 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.
Rafa Cabrera Bello (67) and Tyrrell Hatton (67) tied for third, one shot out of the playoff.
Phil and Tim Mickelson did their own thing for dinners all week, but they joined forces where it counted, on the course. When Phil was walking too fast up the 15th fairway, Tim told him to slow down. When Phil faced a testy three-footer to force a playoff on 18, Tim calmed his nerves.
“We have this little thing where he just says, ‘Just connect with the hole,’ just like when we go shooting,” Mickelson said. “He just knew how to resonate, get the best out of me and calm me down in those tough situations coming down the stretch. This is a moment that I think we're going to look back on and appreciate and cherish together.”
Thomas, the FedExCup leader, made 14 birdies, two eagles and two bogeys while shooting 62 (a course record) and 64 on the weekend, an epic performance that fell just short. Although he regretted going over the green at the par-3 17th in the playoff, a gap wedge that flew too far on account of being “a little pumped up,” even he could see the joy in a Mickelson win.
“I just said I’m really proud of him,” Thomas said. “He’s been so supportive of me ever since I met him when I was 17. For someone of his stature at that time to reach out to me during amateur events, college events, to tell me I was playing well, was so cool.
“Obviously,” he added, “I would have loved to drum him out there in that playoff.”
Phil Mickelson's interview after winning Mexico Championship
Mickelson made seven birdies and two bogeys, the second coming after he hit a tree with his second shot at the par-5 11th hole. His ball caromed into the tangled greenery separating the club from busy Avenida de Conscripto, and Mickelson identified it before punching out. His ball bounced off a spectator, and he nearly got up and down for par. Thomas holed out from 119 yards to eagle 18 and get to 16-under, but Mickelson birdied 15 and 16 to match him.
Thomas was trying to win for the third time this season and become the first player since David Duval in 1997 to win consecutive TOUR events in playoffs. Mickelson won for the 16th time after trailing heading into the final round. He ran his playoff record to 8-4.
“I said earlier that if I couldn’t win, I want Phil to win, and I stand by that,” said Rahm, whose college coach and former agent was Tim Mickelson. “This is an emotional win for him, and it’s emotional for me, too. He’s not just one of the greatest players and personalities, he’s one of the greatest people ever to play the game.”
For several months, Mickelson insisted he was close to winning again, and he wasn’t the only one who saw it coming. Steele, the Safeway Open champion, said he noticed the signs in his matches with Mickelson in their off-weeks in Southern California.
“I absolutely didn’t question this would happen,” Steele said. “The ability is still there, and the desire is incredible.”
In retrospect, what was perhaps most remarkable was that the streak lasted as long as it did. Mickelson racked up points in the Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup, and played more than well enough to win the 2015 Open Championship at Royal Troon, were it not for Henrik Stenson.
Part of the streak, Mickelson said at Chapultepec, was down to bad luck, but another part was down to an inability to focus for 72 holes, and technical flaws that led to inconsistency.
“I feel as though those are in the past,” said Mickelson, who came to Mexico on the heels of three straight top-six finishes. “Where I will play consistently well each week with an occasional off week, as opposed to playing poorly every week with an occasional on week.”
Now what? Asked if he can get to 50 wins, Mickelson immediately said, “Oh, I will,” his victory already having coalesced into ironclad confidence. “I’ll get there,” he added.
He’s already in the World Golf Hall of Fame, with little left to prove, but 50 is such a nice round number, and it was practically glowing in front of him now, as if radiating off the Gene Sarazen Cup. Asked which would be the bigger hurdle to winning seven more times, managing his own game or coping with the extravagantly talented group of players like Thomas, Mickelson again didn’t hesitate.
“My own game,” he said. “I know how great the young players are, I appreciate their skill level. I also know the level I'm able to play, and I'll get there.”
Phil Mickelson's birdie putt on No. 16 at Mexico Championship