A crazy Justin Thomas rally. A young Indian star. Sergio. RCB. Raucous crowds. Chapultepec gave us everything, but in the end, it was Phil.
There were a few points Sunday you knew Phil Mickelson was going to find a way to win his first golf tournament in four some years.
Perhaps it was the shouting to fans in Spanish about how and when and where they can obtain his autograph before the round. Maybe it was the disappear-and-reappear acts Lefty performed with Chapultepec’s overgrown groves that line nearly each and every fairway. Maybe it was the roars from the Mexico City gallery at nearly every juncture, cheering a 47-year-old San Diegan as if he’d grown up here. PEAK PHIL was back, that of FIGJAM legend, the unmistakeable and possibly unintentional clumsy swagger that’s come to define his nearly 30-year career. Yes, sure, swagger’s the operative word I’ll use here because we’ve got nothing else to call it.
After a wild day that provided the best Sunday to date of this season on Tour, Phil defeated Justin Thomas on the first playoff hole to win the WGC-Mexico Championship, his first win since his victory at the 2013 Open Championship approaching nearly five years ago. The close was mildly anti-climatic, with Thomas allowing a mid-length par putt to slide just outside the left edge to give Phil the victory on the opening playoff hole.
But what a finish it was to get us to that point.
A stacked leaderboard with Phil, Thomas, Sergio, Rafa Cabrera-Bello, and Tyrrell Hatton giving chase and 21-year-old Indian phenom Shubhankar Sharma leading the way set us up for a hard-to-beat Sunday, and things got nuts early. Early front-nine birdies got Thomas and Mickelson lead shares with Sharma — who’d eventually fade toward the end of the round. A rotating cast of others filtered to the top of the board throughout the day as the back nine started — Sergio, RCB, Brian Harman, and Kiradech Aphibarnrat all either grabbed a lead share or were within one shot at any given point on Sunday.
But with a bunched leaderboard and a few holes to play still for the final group, the afternoon’s biggest jolt came from Thomas — a majestic, shot-you-remember-for-decades hole-out from 121 yards on the 72nd hole to make eagle and pull two shots clear of the pack.
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) March 4, 2018
It felt like Thomas would get his second win in as many weeks on a walk-off winner we’d be talking about for the next month until The Masters. But a Tyrrell Hatton eagle on the 15th equaled Thomas’ clubhouse lead, and the 47-year-old joined the group with this swinger of a birdie putt on the 16th.
Phil curls it in!
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) March 4, 2018
That left Hatton, Mickelson, and Thomas tied heading to the final hole of regulation — where Phil would send himself to the playoff for the eventual victory, while Hatton wasn’t able to get up and in for par to join the two for extras.
Even outside of the absolutely bonkers finishing hour and playoff, here’s a few more nuggets from a golf tournament that gave us every dang thing you could possibly ask for.
Justin Thomas was 11 shots back to start the weekend. 11.
Before the playoff, before the hole-out to get there, you’d be remiss not to talk about exactly how absurd it is that Justin Thomas played any role in the conclusion of this tournament at all. JT started Saturday morning at level par, 11 shots behind Sharma (more on him in a minute) and well out of contention. Perhaps, were this a full field event, he wouldn’t have even made the weekend! But, such is the benefit of playing your way into these guaranteed-money WGCs.
An insane, early morning 62 on Saturday let Thomas pull up within striking distance of Sharma for the final day, and the new 2nd-ranked player in the world didn’t disappoint. Two early birdies to start his round got him right into position on the leaderboard and the magic down the stretch gave him the clubhouse lead an hour before Phil, Sharma, and Hatton finished at Chapultepec.
Behold the emergence of Shub, our sweet boy wonder.
Your overnight leader was the aforementioned Shubhankar Sharma, who you had definitely never heard of — and that’s not your fault. In this country, both fans and media tend to take a highly Amerocentric view of this sport, and that’s understandable. The world’s best tour with tons of big names and storylines gets pumped into your veins every single weekend afternoon. It’s accessible, it’s top-tier, it’s easy to consume. No problem with that. Finding the motivation to wake up at 6am to watch an event in Muscat where Alex Levy is the third-best player? Justifiably a bit harder to do on a regular basis!
But real Euroheads know Shub, the 21-year-old Indian phenom who currently sits atop the Order Of Merit. He’s been one of the early revelations, with two early wins in Johannesburg and Malaysia on the European Tour. His rise has been meteoric over the past couple of months — going from only having Asian Tour status to leading a WGC through 54 holes. With a leaderboard full of big names, the young Indian hung tough on Sunday before fading late into the round — a somewhat expected result for any 21-year-old on a huge stage for the first time.
Still, keep tabs on Sharma, who will assuredly be back on the big stage — perhaps as soon as the Masters if he can accumulate enough points to climb into the OWGR Top 50 in the next couple of weeks. Winning at such a young age seems to indicate he could be India’s first possible major-winning star down the line, which might have massive impact in the world’s second-most populous nation.
If you truly want golf to grow, your best bet is more on the Shubhankar Sharmas and Haotong Lis of the world. Pay attention to them.
Ignore any haters, the WGC-Mexico Championship should be here to stay.
Listen, no one’s going to confuse Chapultepec for Augusta National. The layout isn’t perfect, it’s a bit overgrown, it’s not as pristine as some other courses you’ll see on tour, it’s a little on the short side for a modern event, the grasses aren’t consistent in certain spots — ask Tyrrell Hatton about his final chip on 18.
I do not care about any of that. This tournament is pure, grade-A speed and I need it injected directly into my veins for eternity.
You can’t knock an event when it delivers, and this one’s delivered in both years since the Tour rightly dumped Doral out of the WGC rota. The Mexican golf fans are tremendous, the course’s thick tree groves provide a decent mix of hilarious moments and all-world escapes. There’s a few nice risk-reward opportunities. But perhaps more than anything? It’s different — and on a PGA Tour schedule that has plenty of throw-away, forgettable TPC-type tracks that provide meh events, that’s welcome.
Here’s the full final leaderboard from Mexico City.
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