Often overlooked on Phil Mickelson’s major championship resume is his triumph at Baltusrol in the 2005 PGA Championship. Perhaps because his 3 green jacket victories have been so career defining, maybe it’s because it was “just” a PGA (sorry, it’s a most certainly a major, but the PGA doesn’t resonate like the other big 3), or possibly because it ended on a Monday when viewership was at a minimum. Either way, it’s certainly overlooked when thinking of Lefty’s career defining wins.
What’s way more overlooked than Phil’s victory is something that the masses either have forgotten about or were oblivious to in the first place. To recap, the ’05 PGA’s final round was suspended due to storms (and eventual lack of daylight) on Sunday with the leader, Phil Mickelson, at four under par standing over a par putt on the 14th green. Also, while play was suspended, six other players were still on the course within three shots of the lead, including- Davis Love III, Steve Elkington, Thomas Bjorn, Vijay Singh and Retief Goosen.
At the time of the aforementioned players remaining on the course, Tiger Woods had posted 2 under par and was the leader in the clubhouse. Knowing that play was going to be suspended into a Monday finish, what did Tiger decide to do on Sunday evening, sitting just two shots off the lead with players still having to play up to 5 holes the next morning? He jet-setted his Tiger paws back to Orlando. Yep, an 11-time major championship winner (11 wins at that point) packed it in as the leader in the clubhouse late on a Sunday at a major.
On Monday morning during the tourney’s conclusion, Phil reached the 18th tee tied for the lead at 3-under with Elkington and Bjorn. In typical dramatic Phil fashion, he pulled off a trademark flop shot to within kick-in range for a tap-in birdie and a one stroke victory at 4 under- two strokes better than Tiger.
Several days later, the media hunted down Tiger and asked if his scene-fleeing was a risk, to which he replied, “”Yeah, it was, but also it really wasn’t, either. These are the best players in the world. Look at who’s on that board. It wasn’t like guys who have never been there before. If you have guys who had never been there before, then it might have been a different story.” Since Tiger was without peer at that moment in time in the game of golf and the entire world of sports, that pretty much was the end of the story as his actions were rarely second guessed.
The fact that Tiger didn’t end up in a playoff certainly has made this mostly a lost story, but with Adam Scott’s recent major collapse at the British Open at Lytham in which he bogeyed the final four holes to lose by one stroke, or Jim Furyk’s mini-collapse the month prior at the U.S. Open or so many other memorable major collapses before and after that point in time, Phil and the rest of the contenders merely giving back one or two strokes to par and forcing a playoff at 2 under was absolutely more than just a mild possibility. For goodness sakes, this wasn’t the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic (sorry, Humana Challenge) where numbers only exponentially increase into the red as the week goes on, this was the PGA Championship in U.S. Open-like conditions where pars were at a major premium as proven by only slightly more than a handful of players having even cracked par for 72 holes!
No matter what Tiger said about his decision to fly back to Orlando that night, there’s no question that the semi-likely half-typed-up text message to his private plane’s pilot saying to fire the engines gave him more than just a minor head spin. Ok, I made that part up about the half-typed text, but just imagine had a 3-hole playoff been commencing at 2 under with Tiger watching helplessly from his couch nearly 1,000 miles away. That most certainly would’ve gone down as THE dumbest move in the history of not just golf, but all of sports history. Yep Phil, even topping your “I’m such an idiot” quote after double bogeying the 72nd hole at Winged Foot during the final round of the U.S. Open the following year in ’06.
Alas, it’s just another “what if” moment among countless others in golf’s history, but no question about it, probably one that would be handled differently by Tiger if it were to happen again.