Phil Mickelson doesn’t look it but he’s halfway to 100.
And he’s halfway to an unexpected victory lap.
A twilight highlight eight years after his last major (The Open, 2013) on a course that though on the other side of the Atlantic, is perpetually windswept and fickle. The 50-year-old lefty, who is still as good as he ever was in his own mind, has played aggressively and magnificently through 36 holes of the PGA Championship on Kiawah Island. He followed an opening-round 70 with an 69 this morning and has the luxury of savoring the afternoon conditions, which will deter low scoring.
As of right now, he’s the leader in the clubhouse. It’s not to early to ask if he’ll stay there. If he’ll best the field and Father Time.
The notoriously streaky veteran posted a 31 on his way in, attacking the front nine with expert approach shots and devilishly clutch putting. This followed a treacherous path out, featuring three bogeys in a six-hole stretch. This is where things have gone off the rails so often for Mickelson over the past several seasons. His path to the winner’s circle has been routinely derailed with meltdowns, usually too disastrous for recovery.
For whatever reason, today was different. Two more days of excellent golf and this weekend will be different, too. It’s always an adventure but Mickelson is very much in the hunt for his sixth major. And he’s doing it at an age where it’s supposed to be nearly impossible.
It’s been 16 years since Mickelson won his sole PGA Championship. It feels like two lifetimes ago. Yet here he is, writing a shocking new chapter. As with all his athletic art, it’s compelling and rich and polarizing. His brilliance is delighting audiences or disgusting them. Thrilling them or chilling them. Flying super-close to the sun or setting himself on fire. He can’t help but be interesting, even as he’s missing cuts and limping to finishes.
Right now he’s at the center of the frame. At the top of the leaderboard.
Halfway home but nowhere near done.