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Chaos at PGA finish delights Mickelson, upsets Koepka

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KIAWAH ISLAND, SOUTH CAROLINA - MAY 23: Phil Mickelson of the United States gives a thumbs up as he walks onto the 18th green followed by a crowd of fans during the final round of the 2021 PGA Championship held at the Ocean Course of Kiawah Island Golf Resort on May 23, 2021 in Kiawah Island, South Carolina. Patrick Smith/Getty Images/AFP (Photo by Patrick Smith / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP)

by Jim SLATER

A chaotic mob scene by spectators on the 18th hole in Sunday’s closing moments of the PGA Championship brought winner Phil Mickelson delight but upset injured runner-up Brooks Koepka.

The final duo was swarmed by thousands of spectators who packed around Kiawah Island’s 18th green to watch as Mickelson make history with two closing putts to win, becoming the oldest major champion in golf history at age 50.

“At first it was a little bit unnerving,” Mickelson said. “Then it was awesome. It was an incredible experience.”

The American left-hander, who captured his sixth career major title enjoyed the thrill of what will become an iconic moment, much like a similar move by over-exuberant fans when Tiger Woods won the 2018 US PGA Tour Championship.

“I’ve never had that experience and to see that, to feel that kind of excitement and enthusiasm, and be at the forefront of that, was pretty special.

“That’s a moment I’ll always, always cherish.”

But Koepka, who closed with a 74 to share second with South Africa’s Louis Oosthuizen two strokes behind Mickelson, was an afterthrought in the mayhem.

The four-time major winner, who was playing in pain after right knee surgery two months ago, was not prepared to be swarmed by a mob and somewhat trampled on his way to the 18th green.

“It would have been cool if I didn’t have a knee injury and got dinged a few times in the knee in that crowd because no one really gave a (damn).

“It’s cool for Phil but getting dinged a few times isn’t exactly my idea of fun.”

Mickelson, owning a two-stroke lead at the 18th tee, drove left into spectators near a hospitality tent. Fans lining the hole chanted “Lefty” as he walked to the ball and after he dropped his approach 16 feet from the cup, they began to follow him along the fairway as he walked to the green.

Then they bumped him. Then they raced by him to get good viewing spots and Mickelson was swallowed by the crowd. Outnumbered security and police surrounded and protected Mickelson, but he needed the escort to make his way through the jam-packed crowd of spectators to complete his historic moment.

“I couldn’t hear a thing through the whole darned thing,” said Mickelson’s caddie and brother, Tim Mickelson. “I just saw the cops pushing the way and I said I’m going to get right behind this guy. That’s what I did to get through.”

 

‘SORT OF WEIRD’

Bagman Mickelson said he wasn’t nervous in the middle of the stampede but after months of avoiding such close crowds due to Covid-19, which limited the crowd at the Ocean Course to 10,000, it was a surreal scene.

“Considering where we are in the world right now, it was sort of weird,” Tim Mickelson said. “But it was also pretty darned cool to see.”

Not for Koepka, who tries to keep people away from his knee after making enough progress in knee rehabilitation to nearly win a major six months before he will be fully recovered.

“Trying to protect my knee, I don’t think anybody really understands until you actually you’re coming out of surgery,” Koepka said.

“Even when I was doing rehab and there’s five people kind of standing by your knee, you get a little skittish.”

Koepka iced his knee after it was bumped several times while he made his way through the celebrating spectators to the 18th green.

“I don’t mind waiting or being in that crowd but it felt like somebody tried to, I don’t know what the deal was, but it’s what it is. Be putting it in ice. It got bumped a few times.

“I don’t know what the deal was. There were so many people around.”

 

© Agence France-Presse

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