Postpone the next four events, get Augusta National ready to play host to the Masters this week and worry about the logistical headaches later. The buildup to the first major of the year has been so compelling, so full of narrative and intrigue, that waiting another month seems impossible.
That hype is at an all-time high now that Phil Mickelson is a winner again at age 47.
The five-time major champion defeated Justin Thomas in a sudden-death playoff to win the WGC-Mexico Championship at Club de Golf Chapultepec in Mexico City, his 43rd victory on the PGA Tour.
“It’s been a tough go the last four years,” said Mickelson, who won for the first time since the 2013 British Open. “To have the belief that I was going to get there and finally break through, and do it, feels incredible.”
Coming off a win at last week’s Honda Classic, Thomas looked poised to repeat when he holed out from 120 yards for an eagle 2 on the final hole of regulation. The hottest player in the world twice high-fived caddie Jimmy Johnson and had a two-shot lead when he pulled the ball from the cup at 18. The reigning PGA Tour Player of the Year has had that aura of youthful invincibility about him lately.
Mickelson has visibly aged since his last victory, but the man just three years shy of senior tour eligibility birdied No. 16 to match Thomas at 16 under. He later finished it off in the playoff with a par at No. 17. Thomas had flown a gap wedge over the green and missed an 8-footer for par.
Mickelson shot 16-under 268 for the week, a score Thomas matched by shooting a course record 9-under 62 in Round 3 and 7-under 64 on Sunday.
“I’m probably more proud of myself than I have ever been,” Thomas said. “It takes a lot of patience and calmness for me to stay in it as much as I did, and that shot on 18 was unbelievable.”
Thomas was already a key player in the Masters prelude with two wins this season. Mickelson’s victory added yet another variable to the equation, which includes the prospect of a healthy Tiger Woods contending at Augusta. Woods is set to play in back-to-back tournaments at this week’s Valspar Championship and the Arnold Palmer Invitational coming off a 12th-place finish at the Honda Classic.
Then there’s World No. 1-ranked Dustin Johnson coming back after withdrawing a year ago, two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson winning the Genesis Open at Riviera and Jason Day bouncing back with a January win at Torrey Pines.
Mickelson called his victory “beyond belief,” but he had been close several times this season with four top-10 finishes, including a T-2 at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.
Mickelson squandered a good birdie opportunity at No. 18, which would have given him the win in regulation. He hit a 280-yard fade off the tee and had just 109 yards in for his second shot. Mickelson’s wedge approach ended up left and well short, and he missed the ensuing 36-foot birdie putt to finish with par and secure a spot in the playoff.
Tyrrell Hatton was tied for the lead with Mickelson and Thomas at 16 under entering 18 but failed to get up-and-down for par from greenside rough after missing the green with a wedge on his second shot. The 26-year-old Englishman, who never has won on the PGA Tour, finished T-3 alongside Rafa Cabrera Bello at 15 under.
Now we’re left to ponder Mickelson’s chances at Augusta, where he has the opportunity to become the oldest Masters champion of all time.