MEXICO CITY – Phil Mickelson kept saying he was close.
It turns out Lefty was right.
Mickelson, who hadn’t won since capturing the 2013 British Open, ended nearly five years of frustration and the longest drought of his career Sunday when he toppled Justin Thomas in a playoff to win the World Golf Championships-Mexico Championship at Club de Golf Chapultepec.
Beginning the day two shots out of the lead, Mickelson closed with a 5-under-par 66 to finish at 16 under with Thomas, who shot 64. Mickelson lipped out his birdie attempt from 18 feet on the first playoff hole, the 172-yard, par-3 17th, and then watched Thomas, who had gone long, miss his 10-footer for par.
Mickelson, the oldest player in the field at 47, won for the 43rd time on the PGA Tour. He had finished in ties for fifth, second and sixth in his last three starts and kept saying he was back to playing some of the best golf of his World Golf Hall of Fame career.
“This is a very meaningful win,” said Mickelson, who hadn’t won in 101 starts around the globe. “I can’t really put it into words given the tough times over the last four years and the struggle to get back here. To finally break through and to have this validation means a lot to me.
“I’ve been extremely frustrated knowing that I’ve been able to play at this level and I haven’t been doing it. But knowing where my game was heading into this year and believing in the fact that the results would come, and then being patient and letting it happen, all of that has been an important part.”
Mickelson, who moved to No. 18 in the world with the victory, got going with birdies on four of his first six holes and took the outright lead with a par on the seventh. He added another birdie on the 10th but fell back into a share of the lead when he lost a battle with a row of bushes and trees on the par-5 11th. But with birdies on 15 and 16, he was back into a share of the lead and stayed there with two final pars.
“I’m very optimistic and believe that this is just a steppingstone of some more good things to come,” Mickelson said. “I believe my game’s going to continue to get better each week, too. I don’t think that this is the apex or the peak, I think I’m going to continue to get better. I’m working on the right things.”
Thomas, 24, was trying to win for the second consecutive week and for the eighth time in his last 31 starts on the PGA Tour. The winner of last week’s Honda Classic looked to be the winner again after he holed out from 119 yards on the 72nd hole to take the lead but could only watch as Mickelson earned a spot in the playoff.
It was another dramatic turnaround for Thomas, who felt helpless after shooting 72 in Thursday’s first round, saying he never felt worse standing over the ball. After consultation via a phone call and text messages with his father, Mike, a PGA professional and his son’s coach, Thomas, the reigning FedExCup champion and PGA Tour player of the year, shot a second-round 70 and started the weekend 11 shots out of the lead. Then he started to roll, signing for a course-record 62 in the third round and with his 64 in the last shot 16 under on the weekend.
“Man, there’s nothing for me to hang my head about,” said Thomas, who moved to No. 2 in the world. “To even have a chance to win this golf tournament after where I was through 18, through 36 holes, I’m very proud of myself. I think it’s the most maturity and kind of poise I’ve shown in a tournament I’ve ever played.
“Obviously, I would have loved to drum (Mickelson) out there in that playoff, but I’m just happy for him and I just told him I know how hard he’s worked. And he’s playing some great golf. I just was on the wrong side of it.”
Mickelson and Thomas emerged from a large pack of contenders in the old-fashioned shootout at 7,800 feet above sea level, where six players held at least a share of the lead.
Tyrrell Hatton, who was confined to his hotel room on the eve of the championship and feared he couldn’t make it to the first tee for the first round, bogeyed his last hole to fall out of the playoff, missing an 11-footer for par. Hatton stormed up the leaderboard on the weekend with rounds of 64-67 and eagled the 15th from 11 feet to grab a share of the lead. But his final-hole bogey, when he missed the green to the right, dropped him into a share of third place with Rafa Cabrera Bello (67).
In a tie for fifth were Kiradech Aphibarnrat (65) and Brian Harman (68). Defending champion and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson had surprising difficulty with the par 5s and finished with a 69 and in a tie for seventh with Masters champion Sergio Garcia (70).
Overnight leader Shubhankar Sharma didn’t make a birdie until the 12th hole and fell down the leaderboard with a 74 and into a tie for ninth with Bubba Watson (67) and Adam Hadwin (66), who will defend his title in next week’s Valspar Championship.
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