PITTSFORD, N.Y. – Even as golf embarks on the final major of the year at the PGA Championship, still fresh in the mind is the closing round Phil Mickelson put together at Muirfield to win the British Open. He birdied four of the last six holes for a 6-under 66, the best round of the day in demanding conditions.
It matched the low round of the week and was 7.5 shots better than the average score that Sunday. It also was the lowest final round ever at Muirfield by the champion, and the best by any British Open champion in 16 years.
Can the PGA Championship top that?
The PGA has had its share of great closing rounds, such as the time Bob May shot 66 at Valhalla to get into a playoff with Tiger Woods, who had a 67. Woods ended up beating May in a three-hole playoff.
Dating to the start of stroke play in 1958, here are five examples of the greatest closing rounds in the PGA Championship:
5. SLUMAN BEATS THE HEAT: Paul Azinger was poised to atone for his runner-up finish at the British Open the previous year when he opened with rounds of 67-66 at Oak Tree outside Oklahoma City, and then had a 71 to take a one-shot lead over Dave Rummells going into the final round of the 1988 PGA Championship.
Jeff Sluman, who was six shots behind at the halfway point, cut the deficit in half with a 68.
Rummells quickly went the other direction and faded to a 75. Azinger looked poised to capture his first major, and it all turned on one hole.
Sluman holed out with a wedge from 115 yards on the par-5 fifth hole, while Azinger a few groups later took a bogey. Sluman kept right on going until he had a 7-under 65, the low score of the final round, to beat Azinger by three shots.
"He shot 65 to beat me," Azinger said. "I had a guy who had never won, and I thought if I shot par, that might have been good enough. It didn't even come close."
4. GRAHAM SLAYS THE MONSTER
This wasn't in the same category of when Ben Hogan shot 67 in the final round at Oakland Hills in the 1951 U.S. Open and famously said that he was glad he brought "this monster to its knees." But what David Graham did in the 1979 PGA Championship was impressive.
Rex Caldwell had a two-shot lead over Ben Crenshaw going into the final round, with Graham six shots behind.
Graham put together 17 holes of sheer brilliance, 7-under for his round. He made double bogey on the final hole and still had a 65 that matched the best score of the tournament, and the low round of the day by two shots. That double bogey, however, forced him to go overtime with Crenshaw, who had a 67.
Graham missed two more short putts, and then made birdie on the third extra hole to capture his first major.
3. MAHAFFEY'S GREAT COMEBACK
John Mahaffey had no reason to believe he would win the 1978 PGA Championship at Oakmont when he opened with a 75. Not only was he already eight shots out of the lead, he was eight shots behind Tom Watson, who had won the Masters and British Open a year earlier.
Watson showed no signs of letting up. He followed with a 69 and a 67 to take the 54-hole lead and appeared well on his way to the third leg of the Grand Slam. Instead, Watson had another collapse, similar to his closing 79 at Winged Foot in the 1974 U.S. Open.
Mahaffey, seven shots behind going into Sunday, closed with a 66 for the best score of the final round. That got him into a playoff with Watson and Jerry Pate, and Mahaffey made birdie on the second playoff hole to win his only major. It remains the greatest comeback in PGA history.
Watson would win the 1982 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. The PGA Championship ultimately kept him from a career Grand Slam.
2. HE HAD NO CHANCE
Bob Rosburg became famous for his work as a golf analyst on television for saying, "He's got no shot," and he was rarely right.
Good thing he never said that about himself.
In the 1959 PGA Championship at Minneapolis Golf Club, Rosburg looked like an also-ran by opening with 71-72 to be nine shots behind Jerry Barber. Rosburg at least cut the deficit in half with a 68 in the third round, and then he came storming back. Rosburg closed with a 66 for the low score of the final 36 holes, and it was enough to beat Barber (73) and Doug Sanders (72) by one shot.
1. TIGER SLAYER
Tiger Woods was 14-0 when going into the final round of major championships with at least a share of the lead, and the 2009 PGA Championship looked to be over one day earlier. Woods put on a clinic at Hazeltine and opened with rounds of 67-70 to build a four-shot lead over Padraig Harrington.
Six shots behind was Y.E. Yang of South Korea, who had been to PGA Tour qualifying school the previous year and then won the Honda Classic.
Woods followed with a 71 in the third round, but still had a two-shot lead over Yang. Even so, he seemed well on his way to a 15th major. Woods, however, started missing putts for birdie and par early in the final round in tough scoring conditions. Yang took the lead for the first time all week by chipping in for eagle on the 14th green. He had a chance to put Woods away on the 17th, until he made bogey and took a one-shot lead to the final hole.
On the 18th hole, with a tree blocking his view of the flag, Yang hit a 3-iron hybrid that cleared a bunker and settled 12 feet away. He made the birdie putt for a 70, matching the best score of the final round, and wound up with a three-shot win. He was the first Asian to win a men's major.