Next to him was 64-year-old Bernhard Langer, grinning just as broadly as he hoisted the Charles Schwab Cup trophy at an age when most players are playing from the front tee boxes, not fighting for championships.
One ceremony, two champions with vastly different styles.
Mickelson birdied three of the final holes Sunday to win the season-ending Charles Schwab Cup Championship, and Langer held on to win his sixth PGA Tour Champions season points title.
“It’s so fun for us to come back and play in front of everyone and then to come out on top here was a special week,” said Mickelson, who played collegiately at nearby Arizona State. “I want to congratulate Bernhard because he really is the gold standard for work ethic, discipline as well as talent and a great golf game. At 64, to win the season-long championship, that’s pretty impressive, pretty inspiring.”
For Mickelson, it’s always been about flash and creativity, pulling off shots few others would consider attempting. He did it through six major titles and 45 PGA Tour victories, and has kept it going on the senior circuit.
Mickelson was at his creative best at Phoenix Country Club, shooting a bogey-free 6-under 65 in the final round to join Jack Nicklaus as the only player to win four of his first six starts on the 50-and-over tour.
Lefty showed off his short-game skills to avoid bogeys and poured in six birdies in Sunday’s final round, the last an up-and-down from short of the par-5 18th to reach 19 under.
“It’s been fun for me to play out here and see so many guys that I grew up and spent decades with life-long friends,” Mickelson said. “Then to play well and have some success is very meaningful.”
Langer made a name for himself with precision and toughness through a stellar career, winning two Masters and 64 times internationally. The German star became unstoppable once he turned 50, winning 11 major championships and 42 tournaments overall.
Langer needed lean on that toughness to get through four rounds at Phoenix Country Club. He nearly withdrew two holes into the tournament due to intense back pain and battled as the discomfort lessened slightly each day.
Langer shot under his age for the first time in the third round, a sterling bogey-free 63 with bookend eagles that moved him within six shots of Jim Furyk’s 16-under lead. He pulled within two shots with birdies on Nos. 1 and 4, then rolled in a 15-foot eagle putt on the 306-yard par-4 fifth to reach 14 under.
Langer struggled getting putts to fall the rest of the way, laboring through a 2-under 69 to finish at 12 under. He finished 17th, but was still in position to win the Schwab Cup after playing all 39 PGA Tour Champions events.
“I’m just overwhelmed, you know, at 64 to win this thing six times,” Langer said. “It will probably be my last one, I’m almost sure of that, but it’s very, very special.”
He had to wait a bit to get it.
Furyk needed to win the tournament or tie for third and have Langer end up worse than eighth to win his first PGA Tour Champions series title. He dropped in a long birdie putt on the par-4 17th to pull within two of the lead, but Mickelson’s birdie on No. 18 made it three shots.
Needing an eagle to win the Schwab Cup, Furyk pulled his second shot into the grandstand left of the 18th green and and had to drop in mulch. His next shot across the green into the rough and he got up and down for par. Furyk shot 71 to tie for fifth at 16 under.
“How exciting was it coming down the stretch?” Langer said. “Literally, came down to the last shot. If he would have eagled 18, he would be standing here lifting the Charles Schwab Cup trophy and he would be the winner. I’m overwhelmed with emotion.”
New Zealander Steven Alker, a PGA Tour Champions qualifier just three months ago, shot 67 to finish second at 18 under. Darren Clarke had a 64 and David Toms a 65 to tie for third at 17 under.
Alker had no status after turning 50 in July and qualified for the Boeing Classic in August. He strung together top-10 finishes every week to keep playing and become eligible for the postseason, including a win last weekend at the TimberTech Championship in Florida.
Alker kept the roll going on Sunday, overcoming a bogey on the par-3 second with five birdies to finish one behind Mickelson.
By John Marshall