PGA Championship surprise: Phil Mickelson on top of the board

PGA Championship surprise: Phil Mickelson on top of the board

The Kiawah Island Ocean Course showed its teeth and few could beat it in this second round. One of them is a 50-year veteran named Phil and last name Mickelson. Right-handed from birth but left-handed to wield the clubs, this five-time Majors winner from California found a way to turn back the clock and dazzled with a return of 69 hits (-3). The winner of this tournament in 2005 had made 70 strokes (-2) on Thursday and at -5 tied the first position with South African Louis Oosthuizen heading into the weekend. Mickelson’s lap started at the 10th hole and it wasn’t good. He finished with bogeys on holes 17 and 18 to score 38. But in the second leg (first leg for him), which is somewhat easier, especially because in the second round he played downwind, Mickelson excelled by making five birdies for a set. 31 strokes and 69 for the day, which put him at the top of the rankings. Mickelson’s last Major victory was at the 2013 British Open in Muirfield. His last PGA Tour win was at AT&T Pebble Beach in 2019. We’re only halfway through this PGA Championship, but if Mickelson, who turns 51 in June, wins this week, he’d be the oldest winner in a Major. Julius Boros holds the distinction at the moment, having won the PGA Championship in 1968 at 48 years, 4 months and 18 days.

The cutoff located at +5 talks about the difficulties posed by the field in combination with the wind, its main ally. Out of 154 players there were only 21 scores under par. There were also 13 players who exceeded 82 (+10). Some of the notable players who were left out for the weekend are, among others, the first, second and fourth of the World Ranking, Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas and Xander Schauffele respectively. Neither did Sergio Garcia, Adam Scott and Matt Kuchar go to the weekend.

One of the notable players who did make the cut, and in complete comfort, was Brooks Koepka, who at -4 gear third. It should come as no surprise that Koepka is at the top in a Major, but somehow he is. Because it is not easy to be in contention in these tournaments and Koepka does it almost without exception. At the last Masters Rory McIlroy said that he had gone to visit the convalescent Tiger Woods at his home. What surprised the Northern Irishman the most was that in Tiger’s trophy case there were only his 15 Majors. There are players, like Nicklaus, Hogan, Palmer, Player, and clearly Woods and Koepka, who only care about the greats. That’s what they prepare for. Koepka belongs to that select club. He will be in the mix on Sunday, almost certainly. It doesn’t matter if his knee is hurt, nor does it matter that he has that confident, almost superior air every time a Major starts. It is clear that for Koepka the Majors are his. If anyone has doubts, look at his last 13 results: four wins, two second places, a fourth, a sixth, a seventh, a 29, a 39 and only once did he miss the cut. Eloquent.

South African Louis Oosthuizen was the only player who did not bogey. The reward for his efficiency was a great score of 68 strokes (-4), for a total of -5 that puts him alongside Mickelson at the top of the tournament and in Saturday’s final outing on Kiawah Island. Oosthuizen must have if not the best, one of the five best swings on the tour. Amazing tempo and legendary quality. He has already won a Major, the 2010 British Open at St Andrews. In 2015 he was second at the British Open and second at the US Open. Used to playing in the wind, from his long experience on the European Tour, he may have an advantage if the monster wakes up in South Carolina.

The Chilean Joaquín Niemann is the best located Latin American. March tied for 12th place, after laps of -1 and par respectively. Nothing was easy for the young trans-Andean on this Friday. He made a double bogey, two bogeys and four birdies. Niemann is already part of the golf elite. It seems incredible that in such a short time he has achieved so much. He already has a triumph on the PGA Tour, the 2019 Greenbrier Classic. You have to be aware that he is only 22 years old and that he turned professional three ago, in 2018. There are high expectations in Niemann, who is clearly the best player in Chilean golf of all time.

Mexican Abraham Ancer made a pair in the second round and with +2 he is tied for 32nd place. Ancer is a great player and his quality will surely lead him to a triumph very soon, which for now is elusive. Just two weeks ago he was second to a single hit to Rory McIlroy at the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow.

His compatriot Carlos Ortíz adds a total of +3 and is in position 39.

Argentine Emiliano Grillo made a very good lap of 72 strokes (even) and was on the edge of the qualifying cut with a total of +5, tied for 63rd place. Despite his bad start in the first round (+5) , Cricket seems to be on the right track with his game.

Outside was the Colombian Sebastián Muñoz who added a total of +7 with laps of 77 (+5) and 74 (+2).

A Saturday of changing winds is expected at Kiawah, the field that runs parallel to the coast of the Atlantic Ocean in South Carolina. An almost Scottish landscape in America.

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