Phil Mickelson clinches title with 72nd hole birdie
Having waited 14 years to win his first major, Phil Mickelson had no problem over an extra day before clinching his second with a one-shot victory at the weather-hit U.S. PGA Championship on Monday.
Once dubbed the best player never to have won a major, Mickelson, the 2004 U.S. Masters champion, has now claimed two in consecutive years. Both triumphs came in similarly thrilling fashion, with a birdie on the final hole.
It would be hard, though, to imagine a more compelling drama than what unfolded at Baltusrol Golf Club on Monday when 12 players returned to complete the final round after the threat of lightning had forced the year's final major into a fifth day.
Mickelson arrived at the famed Lower Course holding a one-shot lead over Australia's Steve Elkington and Denmark's Thomas Bjorn. He left with the same margin, but also in charge of the prized Wannamaker Trophy and a winner's cheque for $1.17 million.
"It's an amazing feeling to be the winner and to be able to hold this trophy," said Mickelson, who completed his final round in two-over-par 72 to finish at four-under 276.
"It was a fun week but very stressful and having the lead after each night just added to the stress and the difficulty and challenge of it, which is why things feel so good right now.
"The next major isn't for seven months. I just want to relish this and enjoy the fact that, for the next seven months, I'm the most recent winner."
With Elkington (71) and Bjorn (72) in the clubhouse at three under, Mickelson stepped on to the par-five 18th tee needing a birdie to seal his second major championship and thundered his opening drive straight down the middle.
Tapping the Jack Nicklaus plaque embedded in the centre of the fairway for good luck, Mickelson might have hoped for better fortune when his second shot sailed into deep greenside rough.
There was no panic, however, as the ice-cool Mickelson responded with a perfect pitch to leave him a straightforward three-foot putt for the title.
As the sun broke through the cloud cover to bathe the 18th green in sunlight, Mickelson drained the putt and acknowledged his first U.S. PGA title with a small fist pump and a big sigh of relief.
"To win here where Jack Nicklaus has won a couple of times, I touched his plaque there on 18 just to get some good karma, makes it a memorable and very special week for me," said Mickelson, who was mobbed by his three children who raced onto the green.
"When I hit the second shot on 18, I knew I needed a birdie to win," added Mickelson, who moved ahead of Ernie Els to number three in the world rankings with his triumph.
"I've struggled out of the rough this week because it's very difficult here but, for that third shot, I went in aggressive, the ball popped up beautifully, landed softly and trickled by the hole."
Moments earlier, Bjorn, bidding to become the first European to win the tournament since Scotland-born Tommy Armour 75 years ago, and Elkington, the 1995 champion, had faced birdie putts on the 18th green and a chance to put extra pressure on Mickelson.
Elkington's birdie attempt from 10 feet slipped wide while Bjorn watched agonised as his 20-footer slowly lipped the cup.
"There's a lot to be said to be the last guy out there, he has the final say," said Elkington. "Thomas and I both had good chances to birdie 18, but we couldn't do it."
The overcast, cool conditions that greeted the players on Monday were in sharp contrast to the sweltering record-breaking temperatures they endured over the first four days of the tournament.
Mickelson got his day off to a positive start when he returned to the 14th green, calmly tapping in a three-foot putt for par.
However, the 35-year-old Californian relinquished the lead when he bogeyed the par-three 16th after finding a bunker off the tee and was deadlocked with Elkington at three under.
That would be his only wobble, though. Mickelson held his nerve over the closing par-fives, lipping out with his birdie attempt on 17 before securing his fourth PGA Tour win of the season.
"You know, Phil deserves this more than anybody," said the Dane. "He's not a one-major guy; he's a 10-major guy. He's going to go on now and contend for majors as he's always done, but it's going to be easier and easier for him to win them now."
The softer conditions proved tricky for Bjorn and defending champion Vijay Singh, who missed short par putts on 15 and 16 respectively to slide down the leaderboard.
Although Bjorn recovered with a birdie on 17 to get back into the chase, Fijian Singh was never able to find his rhythm and ended his round with another bogey on 18 for a 74 and a share of 10th at even-par 280.
Mickelson leads as storms force Monday finish
Phil Mickelson ended Sunday on top of the U.S PGA Championship leaderboard but left without a title after a second lightning suspension forced the year's final major into a Monday finish.
With lightning crackling around Baltusrol Golf Club, officials sounded the horns to clear the Lower Course before announcing that play would resume the following day at 10:05 a.m. EDT (1400 GMT).
The 87th U.S. PGA Championship was still wide open for the taking, though, with eight players bunched within three strokes of Mickelson's lead at four under par with five holes remaining.
Three of them, including world number one Tiger Woods at two under, were safely in the clubhouse.
Tied for second at three under were Australian Steve Elkington, the 1995 U.S. PGA champion, and Thomas Bjorn of Denmark, bidding to become the first European to win the tournament since Scotland-born Tommy Armour 75 years ago.
Elkington had finished 15 holes and Bjorn was through 14.
"I love this championship, but I want to live," said Mickelson, who faced a three-foot putt for par on the 14th green before he being hustled off as lightning flashed above the course.
"I wish we could have finished today obviously but we'll have to finish tomorrow."
Defending champion Vijay Singh and 1997 winner Davis Love III will also be back on Monday, lurking just two shots off the lead with three and five holes to play respectively.
After battling to a two-under-par 68 to finish at two-under 278, twice champion Woods will also have to extend his stay in New Jersey if the tournament goes into a three-hole playoff.
It is the first time the U.S. PGA Championship has been forced into a Monday finish since 1986 at Inverness, where American Bob Tway holed out from a bunker on the 72nd hole to beat Greg Norman by two shots.
Sunday's stormy finish at Baltusrol was a fitting conclusion to a turbulent day on the leaderboard.
Love and Mickelson, joint leaders overnight at six under, both struggled for accuracy off the tee in their respective bids to secure a second career major.
Mickelson looked in imperious command when surging into a three-shot lead after four holes before bogeys on six, seven, nine and 10 sent him tumbling down the leaderboard.
With storm clouds building, the American left-hander rolled in a 12-foot putt for birdie on 13 to get back to two over for the day and in sole possession of the lead at four under.
"I don't feel today was a slide," said Mickelson, last year's Masters champion. "I thought the course was playing tremendously hard.
"I don't feel like there were any spots where I wasted a shot or where I couldn't save par and I hit a couple of good shots on 13 to make birdie.
"I'm starting to make some good shots and we got some birdie holes coming in."
Elkington kept the heat on the front-runners with a rock-solid front nine that included eight consecutive pars and a birdie at the par-three ninth.
The Australian, however, started to wobble after the turn, carding three bogeys against a lone birdie on the next six holes.
Woods's bid to mount a last-day charge was slow to spark as he bogeyed two of the first three holes to slip eight strokes back.
Chances of a third U.S. PGA title seemed remote as Woods reached the turn but three birdies on the back nine, including 17 and 18, earned him a 68 and left him in the clubhouse waiting to see if the leaders would come back to him.
"I'll stay around and watch," Woods said as Elkington took the lead and then relinquished it to Mickelson. "You don't know what's going to happen out there. It's getting harder and faster."
Woods gave a great run at eagle on the mammoth, 650-yard 17th hole when he smashed a searing two-iron for his second shot that came within a whisker of hitting the stick only to bound through the green to the back fringe.
"At the closing holes, I felt if I could go 4-3 somehow, it would look pretty good," said the 29-year-old American, who came within a stroke of his goal to keep himself in the hunt for his 11th major title.
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