They each have a locker in the World Golf Hall of Fame, but Phil Mickelson and Bernhard Langer hold distinct places in the PGA Tour Champions universe. The former is the senior circuit’s reigning phenom, the later its living legend. On Sunday at Phoenix Country Club, they both reaffirmed their status with historic victories to cap the 2020-21 super season.
Posting a bogey-free 65, Mickelson claimed the tournament title at the Charles Schwab Championship, shooting a 19-under 265 over 72 holes. Fending off Steven Alker by a shot, Lefty earned his fourth title in six career senior starts, joining Jack Nicklaus as the fastest to four in PGA Tour Champions history.
“It's fun to come out on top, and to get back and play here in Phoenix is a special feeling,” said the 51-year-old. “Amy [his wife] and I have had so many great years here; the birth of our first two children were here, we met here over at Arizona State and spent so many great years here. It's so fun for us to come back and play in front of everybody one.”
Posting an up-and-down 69, Langer finished solo 17th in the tournament, seven back of Mickelson. It was still good enough, however, for the German to claim the senior tour’s season-long Charles Schwab Cup (and an accompanying $1 million bonus) for a record sixth time.
“I'm just overwhelmed, you know, at 64 to win this thing six times,” Langer said. “It will probably be my last one, I'm almost sure of that, but it's very, very special.”
Both Mickelson and Langer got some help on Sunday from Jim Furyk, the 54-hole leader who must have thought all the holes were covered in plastic during the final round. Furyk started the day at 16 under and proceeded to shoot an even-par 71, one of just two scores of 71 or higher posted by a player who finished in the top 20. Had Furyk won the tournament proper, he also would have claimed the season-long title.
Furyk still had a chance at besting Langer on the final hole, needing to chip in for an eagle 3 on the par-5 18th from wood chips to the left of the green. It didn’t happen.
Langer’s performance over the course of the PGA Tour Champions combined 2020 and 2021 seasons due to COVID-19 was remarkable for its consistency. He played in all 39 events and posted 24 top-10 finishes. He won only twice, running up his career senior victory part to 42, but was a constant presence on leader boards.
“It's really amazing how Bernhard has played so well for so long, but he works at it,” Mickelson said. “He works so hard at it and is in the gym constantly and he's constantly working out, recovering and practicing and hitting balls. His work ethic is second to none and the results show. He's kind of the gold standard for what professional golf is about. You have talent, but you've got to put in the time and work in to have success. ”
Still, Langer nearly saw all the work go for naught when back spasms flared up early in the week. During his opening round Thursday, Langer said that he was close to withdrawing from the tournament after only three holes, playing through the worst pain he can remember having in his career. But each day he got progressively better, to the point where he broke his age by a shot with his Saturday 63.
Mickelson, having become the oldest winner of a major title with his victory at the PGA Championship in May, was a less frequent participant at the senior level. When he did play, he did so with enthusiasm, genuinely enjoying rekindling old acquaintances.
“It's been fun for me to play out here and see so many guys that I grew up and spent decades with, life-long friends,” Mickelson said. “Then to play well and have some success is very meaningful.”
In turn, his peers appreciated Mickelson making the effort; Kirk Triplett told Lefty during his round Friday just how big a deal it was to the rest of them that he support the PGA Tour Champions.
Mickelson is set to celebrate his 25th wedding anniversary this coming week. Langer is flying to Germany to have a procedure done on his knee that will keep him from hitting balls for six to eight weeks. Indeed, both sounded ready to hang up their clubs for a while.
Both will do so knowing full well they accomplished big things in 2021—and hope for more of the same in 2022.