Phil Mickelson, at 47, has chance to rewrite Masters record book

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Phil Mickelson, at 47, has chance to rewrite Masters record book

PGA Tour

Phil Mickelson, at 47, has chance to rewrite Masters record book

AUGUSTA, Ga. – In 81 years of the Masters Tournament, the average age of the champion is 32.54 years old. That makes what Jack Nicklaus did in 1986, winning his sixth green jacket at 46 years old, even more impressive.

Before his final triumph at Augusta National, Nicklaus was essentially counted out. He was too old, they said. The magic had faded, they believed.

“If I were going head to head with him, I wouldn’t be afraid of him or fear anything supernatural,” Corey Pavin said of Nicklaus in 1986.

Added Tom Kite that week: “I don’t think he can win any tournament.”

Yet against all odds, Nicklaus, two years removed from his last win on Tour and six from his last major victory, accomplished the unthinkable. His Masters win at 46 years, two months and 23 days old still stands as a Masters record.

Phil Mickelson was a sophomore at University of San Diego High School when he watched Nicklaus make Masters history. He still remembers how hard he pulled for the Golden Bear that Sunday, and how inspired he felt by that moment.

“What an exciting Masters that was,” Mickelson said. “And now to think that I’m this age, the time just flies by.”

Yes, at age 47, Mickelson has a chance to rewrite the Masters record book this week and supplant Nicklaus as the oldest Masters champion.

But unlike Nicklaus in 1986, Mickelson isn’t being counted out. In fact, he is one of the favorites, having won the WGC-Mexico Championship last month – a win that ended a five-year victory drought – and notched four other top-6 finishes on Tour this season.

“(Winning recently) it validates your ability to perform under pressure,” Mickelson said Tuesday before he begins another quest for a fourth green jacket. “So I’ve already now performed and executed shots at the highest level under pressure, and doing it at the Masters that final nine is the most difficult time to do it. So having the confidence that I’ve already done it at such a recent moment has been a huge thing. … Every year that I’ve won here, I had won before. And I think it’s an important part of being successful here.”

Even at 47, though it’s hard to ignore that Mickelson isn’t your average golfer who is just a few years from being eligible for the Champions Tour. He’s healthy and in good shape thanks to a workout regimen foreign to golfers in Nicklaus’ time, and he can still get the ball out there, ranking T-55 on Tour in driving distance at 299.9 yards.

“You have a lot of guys that come and go, and some come and then they’re gone forever, and some have a comeback – and Phil’s been around the whole time,” said Bernhard Langer, 60, who has had recent chances to break Nicklaus’ record himself, tying for eighth in 2014 at age 56 and sitting T-3 through 54 holes two years later.

Asked if he sees a golfer north of 46 years old winning the Masters, Langer had no reservations.

“Yes, I do,” he said. “… The guys are much fitter nowadays than golfers have ever been, I think. You have guys like Mickelson, Fred Couples, and a few others in the future that are still long enough to temper this golf course or to have a chance if their short game is good.

“And it’s going to be more of them in the future.”

There’s a good chance that those golfers will be trying to break Mickelson’s – and not Jack’s – record one day.

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