Phil Mickelson isn’t supposed to win the Masters. He hasn’t finished better than 37th since he won the Pebble Beach Pro-Am in February, missed the cut entirely in his last two tournament appearances, and to top it off he’s nearing 50.
Based on recent history, you should expect someone much younger to conquer Augusta National. Since a 41-year-old Mark O’Meara finished first at the storied golf course in 1998, no player older than 40 has topped the leaderboard in golf’s first major. But the 83rd rendition of the event could emerge an outlier.
With Mickelson tied for 10th at 4-under as of 4:50 p.m. ET Friday afternoon—three shots behind co-leaders Jason Day, Francesco Molinari, and Brooks Koepka—he’s in position to break the mold and prove an aging veteran can still reign at Augusta. Not only would he be the first player older than 40 to win a Masters in more than two decades, but at age 48, he would become the oldest in history. Jack Nicklaus is the current record holder, having earned a Masters championship at age 46 in 1986.
A victory Sunday would also tie Phil with Arnold Palmer and Tiger Woods for the second-most green jackets at four each (Nicklaus won six). It would also make Mickelson the oldest player to win a major, edging Julius Boros, who was also 48 but a bit younger when he won the 1968 PGA Championship.
Leading up to this weekend’s tournament, Phil seemed a bit rusty. He missed the cut at both the Players Championship and Arnold Palmer Invitational in March. In February he placed 39th at the WGC-Mexico Championship and 37th at the Genesis Open. As for his recent Masters performances, Mickelson has placed in ties for for 36th, 22nd, 58th, second and 52nd since 2014.
But the five-time major champion is competing in his 26th Masters. He’s no stranger to Augusta, and he’s good enough to contend with the younger bunch in the field, including Brooks Koepka, Jason Day and Jon Rahm, all hovering around the top of the leaderboard.
In the first round Thursday, Mickelson shot a 5-under 67. It was the first time he opened with a round in the 60s since 2010, when he won his third Masters.
Mickelson bogeyed the 10th and 11th holes but notched five birdies in the last seven to close out the round. On Friday, he birdied the second, ninth and 13th, and bogeyed the fifth, eighth, 10th and 17th.
It’s difficult to say if he can maintain momentum or suffer a similar fate to his last three Masters. Either way, it’s been exciting to watch a man nearing a half-century in age keep it close in a tournament that has favored youth in the last two decades.
The average age of a Masters winner is 31. A few other key names have something to say about that. Tiger Woods and Ian Poulter, both 43, are also in contention, as are Matt Kuchar (40) and Charles Howell III (39).
If recent history is any indication, you are more likely to see Koepka, Day or Rahm coming out ahead on Sunday. But in a tradition unlike any other, it’s time to break with convention. It very well could be an old hand slipping on a green jacket in the 83rd Masters.
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