Phil Mickelson goes wire-to-wire to win his PGA Tour Champions debut

Phil Mickelson put the over-50-set of golfers on notice that he’ll be a force to be reckoned with, should he decide to play on PGA Tour Champions. Mickelson posted 5-under 66 in the final round to go wire-to-wire and win the Charles Schwab Series at Ozarks National by four strokes over Tim Petrovic.

Ozarks National is located not far from Branson, Missouri, where the likes of crooners Andy Williams, Glen Campbell and Dolly Parton enjoyed performing during their golden years. In almost any game played today, the half-century man is long gone, having stepped aside to make room for the young. Except in golf. At 50, Mickelson’s competitive juices still are flowing.

Mickelson became the 20th player to win in his senior debut, joining a fraternity that includes Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Lanny Wadkins, and just last month, Jim Furyk. Even Tiger Woods took notice.

Charles Schwab Series at Ozarks National: Leaderboard

“Playing unbelievable golf,” Woods said during his Wednesday press conference ahead of the BMW Championship. “There’s no reason why he can’t win every event he plays out there. He’s got such a big advantage over the rest of the field just with sheer length.”

The question remains: how much will Mickelson play on the senior circuit?

While many Tour pros are itching for golf’s ultimate mulligan, Mickelson, who turned 50 on June 16, was lukewarm about making the jump. After all, he finished T-2 at the WGC FedEx St. Jude Invitational just last month. It wasn’t until he flamed out of the FedEx Cup playoffs with a missed cut at the Northern Trust last Friday that Mickelson decided to make his debut in the Ozarks as part of his prep for next month’s U.S. Open at Winged Foot. (Mickelson would have had two weeks off before his final tune-up at the PGA Tour’s Safeway Open.)

Wearing his San Francisco Highway Patrol-looking shades, chomping gum and riding in a cart, Mickelson made quite the impression. He opened with 61, the lowest debut round in PGA Tour history, and backed it up with an impressive 64 to build a four-stroke lead.

In the final round, he birdied the first and fourth hole and then drove it 20 feet past the flag at the 352-yard, par-4 fifth. When the eagle putt dropped, he pumped his fist. He went out in 31, which could’ve been even lower if not for a bogey at six and 3-putt par at the par-5 seventh. By the time he canned an uphill 20-foot birdie at No. 10 for his third consecutive birdie, he led by six strokes.

“His wedge game is as good as I’ve ever seen it,” Golf Channel analyst Lanny Wadkins said.

About the only thing Mickelson didn’t do in his debut is set the 54-hole scoring record in relation to par of 25 under on the circuit. Mickelson had a few hiccups along the way to the house, including lipping out for birdie from 10 feet at 11.

“You just expect every one to go down,” Golf Channel’s Bob Papa said.

That’s how sharp Mickelson had looked. A Mickelson bogey at 14 combined with a birdie by Petrovic trimmed the lead to three strokes, but that was the closest anyone could get to catching Mickelson, who shot 22-under 191.

“I wasn’t as sharp on the back nine,” Mickelson said. “My lag putting wasn’t great and I kept leaving 4- and 5-footers and fortunately I made them on 16 and 17.”

Kevin Sutherland shot 63 to finish alone in third.

Mickelson made a Monday-Wednesday COVID-19 addition to the schedule senior event into must-see-TV. He led the field in driving distance averaging 324 yards off the tee, but he ranked T-76 in the 78-man field in driving accuracy (29 of 39 fairways hit), suggesting there’s work to be done ahead of his quest to complete the career Grand Slam.

“There was a lot of good and some areas that I identified that I have to work on,” he said. “It was a really good course for me. The fairways were generous. I didn’t have to hit a lot of drivers and there were some holes where I was able to use my length. It was a good course for me.”

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