Phil Mickelson, trying at age 50 to become golf’s oldest major winner, made the turn with a two-stroke lead in a roller-coaster final round Sunday as the back-nine drama began at the PGA Championship.
The age-defying American left-hander, chasing his sixth major title, holed a 50-foot chip for birdie at the par-3 fifth and was grinding in a tension-packed fight at windy Kiawah Island.
Mickelson made the turn on 7-under for the tournament, with four-time major winner Brooks Koepka and South Africa’s Louis Oosthuizen on 5-under and American Kevin Streelman fourth on 3-under at the formidable Ocean Course, the longest layout in major history at 7,876 yards.
Ireland’s 49-year-old Padraig Harrington, Europe’s captain for September’s Ryder Cup, and compatriot Shane Lowry, the 2019 British Open champion, each fired a three-under par 69 to share fifth place and the clubhouse lead on two-under 286.
With a victory, Mickelson would erase the major age win mark set by American Julius Boros when he captured the 1968 PGA Championship at age 48.
World number 115 Mickelson began on 7-under with a one-stroke lead over Koepka, but missed a 13-foot par putt at the first hole while Koepka curled in a 12-footer for birdie to seize the lead.
It was short-lived thanks to Koepka’s double-bogey disaster at the par-5 second, where he hit a tree left off the tee and botched a greenside chip from sand while Mickelson pitched inches from the cup and tapped-in for birdie to grab a two-stroke lead.
Mickelson left a 30-foot par putt inches short to bogey the third but holed his magnificent chip-in at the fifth to restore his edge to two.
At the sixth, Koepka dropped his approach to three feet and birdied while Mickelson missed the green and made bogey, leaving the last-pair partners deadlocked at the top at 6-under.
Mickelson birdied the par-5 seventh to return to 7-under while Koepka made another par-5 stumble, salvaging bogey after finding sand and rough to fall two adrift.
Both closed the front side with back-to-back pars as the intense atmosphere moved to the back side, which has played hardest all week.
Mickelson is 3-for-5 in majors with 54-hole leads or shared leads, winning at the 2004 and 2006 Masters and 2005 PGA but sharing second at the 2006 and 2013 US Opens.
His other major wins came at the 2010 Masters and the 2013 British Open.
With 16 years since his PGA Championship victory, Mickelson would own the longest gap between wins at the same major if he collects the Wanamaker Trophy and the top prize of $2.1 million (1.7 million euros).
Mickelson’s spectacular shot making in blustery conditions has sparked the biggest cheers from a crowd limited to 10,000 people by Covid-19 safety measures.
Koepka, fighting through pain to play after right knee surgery two months ago, could become the 20th player to win a fifth career major after taking the 2017 and 2018 US Opens and the 2018 and 2019 PGAs.
Koepka would become the first player to win the same major three times in four years since Tom Watson at the 1980, 1982 and 1983 British Opens.
Four-time major winner Rory McIlroy, who won the 2012 PGA at Kiawah, grinded out a 72 to finish on 293.
American Jordan Spieth was out of contention for a victory to complete a career Grand Slam.
© Agence France-Presse