Father Time was turned back this week at The Travelers’ Championship as 50-year old Peter Pan, aka Phil Mickelson took the 36-hole lead at 13-under par.
The PGA Tour’s third event back since restarting two weeks ago in Texas was its most thrilling to date.
As will be a standard part of each Tour event going forward until things return to normal, there were withdrawals because of the Corona virus. Cameron Champ and Nick Watney had to withdraw after testing positive for COVID-19 before the event began. Then on Friday, there was the first withdrawal during a tournament when Denny McCarthy pulled out after he tested positive.
Mickelson was at his brilliant, mercurial best for the opening two rounds at the TPC River Highlands in Cromwell, CT firing a 6-under 64 in the first round and following with an even more impressive encore, a 7-under 63 that left him one shot ahead of 29-year old Canadian Mackenzie Hughes and 23-year old American rookie Will Gordon. One can only wonder what was going through their minds on Saturday playing alongside the legend that is Lefty.
Since winning at Pebble Beach in 2019 for his 44th PGA Tour title, Mickelson has battled inconsistency and for the most part had only a few decent finishes, but this is the best he has played since Pebble.
There were a host of talented players in hot pursuit of the leaders including Americans Xander Schauffele (who has been in torrid form lately), Brendan Steele and Brendan Todd (a two-time winner already this season), world #1 Rory McIlroy, and Australia’s Marc Leishman in a cluster at 9-under.
And then there was Bryson DeChambeau whose transformation into the Incredible Hulk is almost complete. The world #2 continues smashing other-worldly drives and recorded 6 drives of more than 360 yards in the first two rounds and was lurking at 8-under heading into the weekend.
Mickelson though was unable to sustain his great play on Saturday faltering with a 1-over 71 that saw him fall back into a tie for 7th.
The biggest moves on Sunday came from Todd and former world #1, Dustin Johnson who both shot spectacular 9-under 61’s. Todd would have the overnight lead at 18-under, two ahead of Johnson, with Streelman another shot behind. Hughes was at 14-under, which was one better than DeChambeau and American Kevin Na, with Mickelson a shot back in a group of 5 players.
For the 36-year old Johnson, who last won at the 2019 WGC-Mexico Championship in February last year, this has been the longest stretch without a victory in his Tour career. The 20-time Tour winner has won each year on Tour since 2008 with the exception of the 2014 season and held the world #1 ranking for 64 weeks in 2016-2017.
Mickelson could not replicate his play of the first two days and fell way back on Sunday with a 1-over 71. Todd also slipped with a 4-over 73 that saw him plummet all the way to a tie for 11th. DeChambeau played well but could not muster a charge and would finish in a tie for 6th. Hughes and Gordon acquitted themselves well to be tied for third.
But the day and the tournament would belong to Johnson whose closing 3-under and 4-day total of 19-under was good enough to give him a one-shot win over Streelman.
With so much attention being given to the twenty-something brigade on Tour (Spieth, Thomas, Rahm, Koepka, et al), Johnson often flies under the radar when the discussion comes to the best player in the world. The lanky laid-back South Carolinian reminded us again that he continues to be very much a force to be reckoned with, and this, his 21st win, is further evidence of his brilliance.