Mickelson's wedge is shot of his life

Updated: August 16, 2005, 12:02 PM ET
By Ivan Maisel | ESPN.com

SPRINGFIELD, N.J. -- After Jack Nicklaus hit a 237-yard 1-iron to within birdie range on No. 18 in the final round of the 1967 U.S. Open, Baltusrol Golf Club put a plaque at the spot in the fairway. As Phil Mickelson walked near it Monday morning, he tapped it with his 3-wood, he said, "for some good karma."

If Baltusrol decides to do the same to commemorate the shot Mickelson hit to win the 2005 PGA Championship, no one would ever see the plaque. The grass is too thick.

From the upslope of the front apron of the final green, Mickelson used a lob wedge to gouge his third shot into the air, a hard swing that produced a goose-down result. The ball plopped onto the green with the quiet of a butler entering a room and stopped within three feet of the flagstick.

Phil Mickelson
As soon as he hit his wedge shot at the final hole, Mickelson knew it was good.

Mickelson flopped it up there as if he has been hitting it all his life. He has.

"It was a chip shot that I had hit tens of thousands of times in my backyard," Mickelson said, referring to his childhood in San Diego. "But it was one that I had to strike confidently and aggressively to get the club through the rough."

Jim "Bones" Mackay, Mickelson's caddie forever, nominated it as the best short-game shot while he's been on the bag. Mickelson appeared to agree. Before the ball stopped rolling, he raised both fists above his head. He knew he had won the PGA.

Mickelson stroked the putt in for a final birdie, a round of 72 and a final score of 4-under 276, one stroke better than Thomas Bjorn and Steve Elkington, both of whom parred what has been a forgiving 18th hole.

Mickelson's victory, his second major in two years, differed in character from the resounding excitement of the 2004 Masters. There, Mickelson charged from behind with a back-nine 31 to overtake Ernie Els, completing it with an 18-foot birdie putt on the final hole.

The 2005 PGA will be remembered as a triumph of patience and of will. He left the course with the lead for four days, one more than normal, yet the pressure never threw him off. For two days, he played great golf, getting to the weekend at 8 under. For two days, he hung on, refusing to give in as he gave away two three-shot leads.

The days of wondering if Mickelson would ever learn how to harness his skills are over.

"There certainly was a sense of relief," Mickelson said. "There was a lot of stress this week, with being in the lead each night and having an extra night to sleep on it, thinking it was going to be done yesterday and having it come today."

Mickelson began Monday morning with a one-shot lead and a 3-foot par putt on the 14th green. He made it and followed with another par on the par-4 15th. Then came the shot he didn't have.

After the storms of Sunday night, the wind at Baltusrol did a 180. Instead of a 5-iron at the 230-yard, par-3 16th, Mickelson needed a 3-iron. He didn't have one. Mickelson removed it from his bag Sunday morning in favor of a sand wedge. The Rules of Golf don't allow clubs to be substituted during a round, even one that takes two days to complete.

Mickelson hit a 4-iron that, lo and behold, didn't reach the green. It plugged in the front left bunker. He blasted out to 18 feet and missed the par putt, which dropped him into a tie with Elkington at 3-under, one shot ahead of Bjorn, Tiger Woods and Davis Love III. Bjorn birdied the 17th to make it a three-way tie.

"It was nerve-wracking having par-5s and being in the last group, thinking that ahead, guys were going to make birdies," Mickelson said. Thomas birdied 17. That meant that both Thomas and Steve Elkington could birdie 18, and then I'm trailing again and I've got to birdie to catch them."

But neither man birdied 18. Bjorn's 30-footer stopped on the lip of the cup. The groan of the gallery around the green floated down the fairway toward Mickelson and Love, who had already left the tee box.

Mickelson nailed his drive at the 554-yard final hole, leaving himself 247 yards to the pin into the wind. He hit a 3-wood that tried to fade into the green, and almost got there. It nestled in the thick grass on the apron. The only way to see it was to look straight down at it.

"It took us a little while to find it," Mackay said. "You don't want to step on the ball. David Feherty [of CBS] went out there as an advance party."

They found the ball, of course, some 35 feet from the pin. Others may have wondered what Mickelson would do, but not Bjorn.

"If there was anybody you'd back to get up-and-down from there in the world, it would be Phil Mickelson," Bjorn said. "I didn't think there was much hope when I saw where he was. You know, Phil deserves this more than anybody. He's not a one-major guy. He's a 10-major guy."

After Mickelson putted out, he plucked the ball out of the cup, and took off his cap to fully reveal a face flooded with relief. At Augusta, the celebration began the second his putt disappeared into the cup. Here, it would have to sink in.

He won his fourth tournament of the year, the 27th victory of his career and his second professional major championship (traditionalists will throw in the 1990 U.S. Amateur as well). After going 0-for-42 in majors, Mickelson is now 2-for-8, the same, it should be said, as Tiger Woods over that span.

Mickelson refused to be drawn into a discussion of what that meant.

"I want to try to get better and better as my career goes on, as opposed to thinking that I've hit some milestone by making it from zero to one major or one major to two majors," he said. "That's not really where I want to focus. It's not really the results or how many trophies. It's trying to get better."

He certainly proved he did that, thanks to a shot he's been hitting all his life.

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Ivan.Maisel@espn3.com.

Ivan Maisel | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com