KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. – Clobbering Father Time, bullying big bad Brooks Koepka and getting the better of Pete Dye’s bruiser hard by the sea, Phil Mickelson etched his name in golf’s historical record Sunday with a staggering victory in the 103rd PGA Championship.

While doubters waited for Mickelson to falter, seeing as he hadn’t won since 2019, hadn’t had a top 10 finish in a major since 2016 and recently sought out meditation to deal with focus issues, he didn’t lose his concentration nor his balance during a rollercoaster round on the harsh, windswept Ocean Course at Kiawah Island to become the oldest men’s major champion.

“This is just an incredible feeling because I just believed that it was possible but yet everything was saying it wasn’t,” Mickelson said. “I hope that others find that inspiration. It might take a little extra work, a little bit harder effort to maintain physically or maintain the skills, but gosh, is it worth it in the end.”

After sleeping on a one-shot lead, Mickelson, 200-1 to win on Thursday and a few weeks from turning 51, survived a helter-skelter first 10 holes where he and playing partner Koepka exchanged body blows to the tune of four two-shot swings and one three-shot swing. And then he didn’t stagger despite a few more edge-of-your-seat moments on the back nine and signed for a 1-over-par 73 to finish at 6 under and two shots clear of Koepka and Louis Oosthuizen.

Inspired by the boisterous pro-Phil galleries, the People’s Champion won his sixth major and supplanted Julius Boros, who won the 1968 PGA Championship at 48, as the oldest to win a major. Thousands of those fans followed him up the fairway and encircled the 18th green when containment was lost by marshals and thundered when Mickelson capped off his triumph by tapping in from six inches.

“Slightly unnerving but exceptionally awesome,” Mickelson said.

2021 #PGAChamp summed up in 4 minutes of Pure Joy.#ULTRAMoment | @MichelobULTRA pic.twitter.com/H0nEBa5bCO

— PGA Championship (@PGAChampionship) May 23, 2021

On the seaside stage where scenes for “The Legend of Bagger Vance” were shot, Hollywood could never make a movie that would top this week’s Mickelson Show, a mixture of fairytale, a longshot’s conquest, the human spirit never giving up and an award-winning turn by a star loved throughout the golf world.

“My desire to play is the same. I’ve never been driven by exterior things. I’ve always been intrinsically motivated because I love to compete, I love playing the game. I love having opportunities to play against the best at the highest level,” said Mickelson, who moved to 32nd in the world rankings after falling to 115th. “That’s what drives me. I just didn’t see why it couldn’t be done. It just took a little bit more effort.”

Despite his recent woes – he hadn’t had a top-20 finish this year on the PGA Tour – Mickelson kept telling all to hear he was close to playing well. After opening with a 70, he grabbed a share of the 36-hole lead with a 69, becoming the only player to hold at least a share of the lead after a round in a major in the last four decades.

A third-round 70 gave him the 54-hole lead as he became just the fifth player age 50 or older to hold at least a share of the lead after three rounds in a major since 1900, joining Tom Watson (2009 Open), Greg Norman (2008 Open), Boros (1973 U.S. Open) and Harry Vardon (1920 U.S. Open).

Mickelson got off to a shaky start with three bogeys in his first six holes, but birdies on 2, 5, 7 and 10 gave him separation from the field and when he took to the 13th tee, he had a 5-shot lead.

But he made two consecutive bogeys before righting his ship with a birdie on the 16th and his nearest competitors didn’t get closer than two shots down the stretch.

Thus, after winning his first PGA Tour title 30 years ago when he stunned the golf world to capture the Northern Telecom Open as a junior at Arizona State University, Mickelson won his 45th. And the man whose plaque has been hanging in the World Golf Hall of Fame for nine years and who has two victories on the PGA Tour Champions didn’t have any problem lifting the 27-pound Wanamaker Trophy for the second time; 16 years ago he won the 2005 PGA Championship.

Mickelson also doesn’t need the special exemption into next month’s U.S. Open at Torrey Pines in his hometown of San Diego anymore. His victory Sunday earned him a 5-year exemption into the national championship.

“I just love this game of golf, and I love what I do, and I love the challenge of competing against such great players,” Mickelson said. “I mean, what an incredible competitor and tough player Brooks Koepka is, and to have a chance to play in the final group with him was an exceptional honor.”

Koepka, who arrived at Kiawah Island having played just four officials rounds since the end of February due to his surgically repaired right knee, was trying make history himself as he tried to become the first player to win three PGAs in four years since the tournament moved to stroke play in 1958.

With his broad shoulders, barrel chest and Popeye arms, Koepka, who won the Waste Management Phoenix Open, was in prime position to win his fifth major since the calendar turned to 2017. But Koepka, 20 years Mickelson’s junior, double bogeyed the second and then made four bogeys in a seven-hole stretch in the middle of his round. Still, he has 10 top-10s in his last 14 majors.

“I’m super happy for Phil. I hope I’m still playing at 50, but to be able to come out and compete and actually win, that’s a whole another thing,” Koepka said. “So kudos to him but it was really cool to see.”

Oosthuizen gave himself chances throughout the round, but a faltering putter did in the 2010 Open champion, who settled for his fifth runner-up in a major.

“It was like the Phil that I remember watching just when I turned pro and it was great to see,” said Oosthuizen, who was paired with Mickelson in the third round. “What an achievement to win a major at 50 years old, and he deserves all of that today. It was not easy with the wind, and you know, he kept calm.

“That’s unbelievable and great stuff.”

Unforgettable stuff.

“Certainly one of the moments I’ll cherish my entire life,” Mickelson said. “I don’t know how to describe the feeling of excitement and fulfillment and accomplishment to do something of this magnitude when very few people thought that I could.

“So it’s very possible that this is the last tournament I ever win. Like if I’m being realistic. But it’s also very possible that I may have had a little bit of a breakthrough in some of my focus and maybe I go on a little bit of a run, I don’t know. But the point is that there’s no reason why I or anybody else can’t do it at a later age. It just takes a little bit more work.”

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