"As the putts go down, the thumb comes up. Let’s have some fun and activate the thumbs this weekend," said Phil Mickelson after moving majestically to the summit of the US PGA Championship leaderboard on Friday afternoon at Kiawah Island.
Will it be thumbs up for the remarkable Lefty on Sunday night?
When romance is removed from the equation, the general consensus, smart money, form guide or accepted wisdom, call it what you will – plus of course those pesky bookmakers – suggest the rejuvenated Mickelson remains an outsider to become's golf's oldest major champion a month before turning 51.
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Despite producing a masterclass in course management to share the lead with South Africa's former Open champion Louis Oosthuizen on five under at the halfway stage of the 103rd US PGA, Lefty is rated as no better than fourth favourite heading into the weekend's fun and games on the beastly Ocean Course track, the longest in major tournament history at a gait-crushing 7,876 yards.
Four-times major winner Brooks Koepka is 4/1 favourite lying a shot behind the leaders with the always likeable Louis at 6/1 and Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama a 15/2 shot.
The venerable Mickelson – who is out in the final group with Oosthuizen at 7.40pm (BST) on Saturday night – is priced fourth favourite at 12/1 and mentally in the right frame of mind after swashbuckling yet considered opening rounds of 70 and 69.
I'm having a lot of fun, and to play well, to know I'm playing well heading into the weekend, to be in contention, to have a good opportunity, I'm having a blast.
It's not that Lefty can't win – his game is as sharp as ever when the mood takes him – it is just that it seems a scenario that historically does not favour the older champion to emerge triumphant when the heat comes on down the home stretch.
The facts speak for themselves in the wider narrative of competitive golf with Mickelson bidding to break a 53-year-old record and end a great sporting hoodoo since fellow American Julius Boros lifted the 1968 US PGA title in Texas at the age of 48.
No golfer beyond 50 has clasped a major crown despite some near misses, the most memorable of which saw the evergreen 59-year-old Tom Watson fail to sink an eight-foot par putt for victory on the final hole, on the cusp of a sixth Open Championship victory at Turnberry in 2009.

Phil Mickelson smiles and gives a thumbs up to fans after making a birdie putt on the ninth hole green during the second round of the PGA Championship on The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Golf Resort on 21 May, 2021, in Kiawah Island, South Carolina.

Image credit: Eurosport

Age and angst of the 72nd hole appeared to catch up with the dazed Watson as he was clubbed over the head by Stewart Cink in the ensuing four-hole play-off with a six-stroke victory amid a state of widespread deflation.
Competing in his first major for three years, the former world number one Greg Norman had led the Open by two strokes at the age of 53 after 54 holes around Royal Birkdale a year earlier, but fell away over the closing nine as Padraig Harrington won back-to-back Claret Jugs with a 77 forcing Norman to settle for share of third place, but all the plaudits.
LIke those two celebrated figures, Mickelson certainly has the ability and desire to convert with 44 PGA titles in his trophy cabinet from a gilded 29-year career, but a golden past means little in the present or the future when young, hungry and dedicated foes are circling.
Mickelson has not celebrated a title since the Pebble Beach Pro-Am in February 2019, has failed to finish inside the top 20 on the PGA Tour this season and lifted the last of his five majors at the 2013 Open Championship at Muirfield in Scotland.
He also ranks outside the top 100 on the PGA Tour off the tee, approach shots and putting leading to a lowly world ranking of 115 from a career high of two twenty years ago.
But still. Professional sport or golf rarely obeys any law of logic when you recall Norman's game seemed to benefit from a new lease of life from his relationship with watching tennis champion Chris Evert 13 years ago.
With his brother on his bag, Mickelson has handled the wind most exquisitely and has taken full advantage of slighter tamer conditions to prosper. He enjoyed favourable conditions being late out on Thursday before again cashing in his pristine chips from close range early on Friday morning as the wind stiffened its resolve for the later starters.
No matter, tee times are as key part of major golf as club selection. Luck remains a reliable bedfellow. Being handed two rotten ones can destroy a player's aspirations as many have discovered this week with world number one Dustin Johnson missing the cut by a stroke (+6) on the wrong side of the draw.
Mickelson should benefit from more benign conditions in the third round on Saturday afternoon with gusts in the morning reaching between 7mph and 10mph and peaking at 8mph and 10mph in the afternoon.
Compared to the 25mph that damaged players off the tee and approaching greens, it is favourable for any weathered golfer.
Not that Mickelson will be using the forecast as a barometer, so to speak, when wind direction and pin placements around Kiawah are key, but it makes the third day – moving day at the majors – a little easier on the senses on a course that punishes minor lapses in concentration.
Remaining in contention is the biggest prize on Saturday.
"I've driven it well, but I think the thing I've done the best is my brother Tim and I have done a really good job of judging the wind, judging the flight and picking clubs with the right flight to get the right distance, and so we've hit a lot of iron shots pin high," said Mickelson, who roared home with five birdies in a breathtaking 31 after taking 38 for his front nine and dropping to level par starting from the 10th on Friday.
I was patient even though things weren't quite going well at the moment, and I had a few shaky strokes on 16, 17 and 18 where I was very tentative. But I was able to make an adjustment on the front and ended up making some really good putts. I putted very well.
It is 55 years since a player aged 50 or over led the US PGA after 36 holes when 54-year-old Sam Snead managed the feat in 1966.
"I'm excited for the weekend. This has been a lot of fun," added Mickelson.
Inner belief has never been a problem for a champion golfer who has always had a touch of the theatre about him. Mickelson on the move at a major remains one of the greatest sporting wonders of the world.
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US PGA Championship second round leaderboard

  • 1 Phil Mickelson -5
  • 2 Louis Oosthuizen -5
  • 3 Brooks Koepka -4
  • 4 Branden Grace -3
  • 4 Hideki Matsuyama -3
  • 4 Christiaan Bezuidenhout -3
  • 7 Paul Casey -2
  • 7 Kevin Streelman -2
  • 7 Gary Woodland -2
  • 7 Corey Conners -2
  • 7 Sungjae Im -2


  • 7:40 a.m. -- Denny McCarthy
  • 7:50 a.m. -- Emiliano Grillo, Chan Kim
  • 8 a.m. -- Harris English, Alex Noren
  • 8:10 a.m. -- Tom Hoge, Henrik Stenson
  • 8:20 a.m. -- Harold Varner III, Garrick Higgo
  • 8:30 a.m. -- Talor Gooch, Brendan Steele
  • 8:40 a.m. -- Webb Simpson, Ben Cook
  • 8:50 a.m. -- Patrick Reed, Billy Horschel
  • 9 a.m. -- Sam Horsfield, Jason Day
  • 9:10 a.m. -- Robert Streb, Wyndham Clark
  • 9: 20 a.m. -- Brian Gay, Aaron Wise
  • 9:30 a.m. -- Danny Willett, Jason Scrivener
  • 9:40 a.m. -- Ben An, Robert MacIntyre
  • 9:50 a.m. -- Dean Burmester, Matt Jones
  • 10 a.m. -- Jordan Spieth, Lucas Herbert
  • 10:20 a.m. -- Russell Henley, Daniel Berger
  • 10:30 a.m. -- Rory McIlroy, Adam Hadwin
  • 10:40 a.m. -- Jimmy Walker, Stewart Cink
  • 10:50 a.m. -- Joel Dahmen, Rickie Fowler
  • 11 a.m. -- Steve Stricker, Cam Davis
  • 11:10 a.m. -- Carlos Ortiz, Justin Rose
  • 11:20 a.m. -- Rasmus Hojgaard, Jon Rahm
  • 11:30 a.m. -- Matt Wallace, Brad Marek
  • 11:40 a.m. -- Tyrrell Hatton, Scottie Scheffler
  • 11:50 a.m. -- Tony Finau, Patrick Cantlay
  • 12 p.m. -- Collin Morikawa, Abraham Ancer
  • 12:10 p.m. -- Lee Westwood, Tom Lewis
  • 12:20 -- Will Zalatoris, Bubba Watson
  • 12:30 p.m. -- Daniel van Tonder, Cameron Smith
  • 12:40 p.m. -- Keegan Bradley, Viktor Hovland
  • 12:50 p.m. -- Ian Poulter, Shane Lowry
  • 1 p.m. -- Matt Fitzpatrick, Padraig Harrington
  • 1:10 p.m. -- Bryson DeChambeau, Charley Hoffman
  • 1:20 p.m. -- Martin Laird, Jason Kokrak
  • 1:30 p.m. -- Harry Higgs, Joaquin Niemann
  • 1:50 p.m. -- Paul Casey, Richy Werenski
  • 2 p.m. -- Kevin Streelman, Sungjae Im
  • 2:10 p.m.-- Corey Conners, Gary Woodland
  • 2:20 p.m. -- Christiaan Bezuidenhout, Hideki Matsuyama
  • 2:30 p.m. -- Brooks Koepka, Branden Grace
  • 2:40 p.m. -- Phil Mickelson, Louis Oosthuizen
For the latest news and sharpest analysis on golf, visit GolfDigest.com
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