Five-time major winner Phil Mickelson defeated Justin Thomas in a play-off after an extraordinary climax to the WGC-Mexico Championship to claim his first victory since the 2013 Open.
Mickelson parred the first extra hole to become, at the age of 47, the oldest winner of a World Golf Championship event and secure the 43rd title of his career.
Thomas failed to get up and down from the back of the 17th green, the same hole he had three-putted in regulation to kick-start a remarkable sequence of events.
The US PGA champion, who won the Honda Classic in a play-off eight days earlier, then holed his approach to the 72nd hole for an eagle two to set a clubhouse target of 16 under par which looked difficult to catch.
But England’s Tyrrell Hatton also reached 16 under thanks to birdies on the 12th and 14th and an eagle of his own on the 15th, while playing partner Mickelson birdied the 15th and 16th to make it a three-way tie.
That tie was broken when Hatton bogeyed the final hole of regulation and meant the 26-year-old had to settle for a share of third with Spain’s
Rafa Cabrera Bello, who had birdied the same hole in his closing 67.
Mickelson and Thomas headed back to the par-three 17th for sudden death and after Mickelson’s birdie attempt had agonisingly grazed the edge of the hole, Thomas missed from 10 feet for par.
Thomas had been 11 shots off the lead at the halfway stage of the £7.2million event, but carded a course record of 62 in the third round and a brilliant closing 64, with Mickelson shooting a final round of 66.
“I can’t put into words how much this means to me,” Mickelson, who had finished fifth, second and sixth in his previous three starts, told Sky Sports.
“It’s been a long time and to come through here in Mexico City, with the fans here and to play against the best players in the world and finally come through… I knew it was going to be soon, I was playing too well for it not to be, but you just never know until it happens.
“To be able to share this with my family, my brother (his caddie Tim) and everybody really means a lot, especially knowing all the tough times we’ve had the last four years.”
Asked about the upcoming Masters, a major title he has already won three times, Mickelson added: “My game’s starting to get to a level that is some of my best golf and it seems like it’s just in time.”
Thomas told the European Tour website it was “pretty unbelievable” he had even had a chance of winning.
He said: “I’m really proud of myself how well I played, how I hung in there, how I even had a chance to win. Obviously the play-off didn’t go how I wanted but I’m happy for him and proud of him. He’s really been working hard to get back in the winner’s circle, and it was a great week for both of us.
“I putted pretty well this weekend. I made some putts and that’s what you have to do to shoot 16 under on a weekend. We had a chance and that’s all I could ask.”
Hatton, meanwhile, spoke of his frustration at not being in the play-off, but admitted it “just wasn’t meant to be”.
According to the European Tour website, he said: “You never know when you’re going to get the chance to win a WGC event again. This is the first chance I’ve had of winning.
“I can’t believe that I’m not at least in the play-off – I’ve played good enough, thought I handled the situation pretty well. Guess it just wasn’t meant to be.
“You don’t get many opportunities to win WGC events and I feel like I’ve thrown a really good opportunity away. So I’m pretty upset, definitely angry.”
India’s Shubhankar Sharma survived some shaky moments to maintain his two-shot lead at the WGC Mexico Championship after the third round on Saturday.
Sharma, the 21-year-old Asian Tour Order of Merit leader whose European Tour wins this season at Johannesburg and the Maybank Championship have propelled him to number 75 in the world, is making his first start in an elite World Golf Championships event.
He’s vying to break into the top 50 in time to earn a Masters berth. With a win on Sunday he would become the youngest player to win a WGC event, eclipsing the mark of Patrick Reed who won the 2014 WGC Mexico Championship at 23 years old.
“I don’t really want to think about it,” Sharma said. “That would put too much pressure on me. I just want to go ahead and enjoy myself.
“Tomorrow will be a lot of fun with a lot of good players in the mix.”
Sharma hit 11 of 14 fairways – his highest total of the week – and 10 of 18 greens in regulation during his third round.
He had five birdies and three bogeys in his two-under par 69 at Club de Golf Chapultepec near Mexico City, where his 13-under par total of 200 put him two clear of five-time major winner Phil Mickelson, reigning Masters champion Sergio Garcia, Tyrrell Hatton and Rafa Cabrera Bello.
World number one and defending champion Dustin Johnson headed a group on 203 that also included 2017 US PGA Tour rookie of the year Xander Schauffele, Pat Perez and Brian Harman.
WOW what a leaderboard 😱. Couldn’t have scripted it better if we tried
1. Shubhankar Sharma (-13)
T2. Phil Mickelson (-11)
T2. Rafa Cabrera Bello (-11)
T2. Sergio Garcia (-11)
T6. Dustin Johnson (-10)
10. Justin Thomas (-9)
— Mexico Championship (@WGCMexico) March 3, 2018
Mickelson poised to strike
Sharma, leading by two to start the day, made a quick start with three birdies in his first six holes. He bounced back from a bogey at the eighth with a birdie at 11, but surrendered a shot at 13.
He rolled in a 16-foot birdie putt at 14 to reclaim sole possession of the lead, and he was two clear even after his bogey at 16.
He closed with a tremendous par save at the last, calmly rolling in a 15-foot putt to maintain his cushion as he tries to become the first player since Jim Benepe at the 1988 Western Open to win a first US PGA Tour title in his tour debut.
“I got off to a great start,” Sharma said. “Made a few mistakes coming in, but I’ve done a fairly good job of the distances and the yardages.”
Sharma will tee off on Sunday alongside Hatton and Mickelson. Hatton carded a 64 to join the group sharing second while the 43-year-old Mickelson posted a bogey-free 65.
Mickelson, chasing his first title wince the 2013 British Open, arrived in Mexico buoyed by three straight top-10 finishes.
“It’s been a long time since my game’s been back to this point,” he said. “I’m back playing some of my best Golf again.”
Mickelson said he wouldn’t get too concerned about whether that translates to a victory on Sunday.
“If it doesn’t, it’s going to happen soon because I’m playing too well for it not to,” he said.
American Justin Thomas rolled in a birdie on the first hole of a playoff to out-duel third round leader Luke List and win the PGA Tour’s Honda Classic on Sunday.
The 24-year-old Thomas posted his eighth win on the USPGA Tour and his seventh victory in his last 31 tournaments.
“It was another level of difficulty, not only the amount of people I was trying to beat, but this golf course,” said Thomas.
“I am so proud of myself and how I played. When you get out of position you have to try to salvage par and that’s what I did.
“I just stayed patient. I know what to expect, how tough it can be, and it feels good to come out on top.”
Thomas closed with a two-under 68 to catch 54-hole leader List, who had a one-under 69. They both finished with an eight-under 272 total at the PGA National course.
Sweden’s Alex Noren shot a three-under 67 to finish alone in third, just one stroke back of the leaders.
England’s Tommy Fleetwood placed fourth after shooting a 69 to reach six-under 274 total, two shots adrift of Thomas and List.
Tiger Woods fired an even-par 70 in the fourth round for an even-par 280 total to land in 12th place.
Thomas hit a beautiful approach shot on the only hole of the playoff as his ball sailed over a bunker and landed on the green giving him a long downhill putt for birdie.
His first putt stopped four feet (1.2 meters) short but he made no mistake on the second putt for the victory that will move him into number three in the world rankings.
American List got into trouble off the tee as his drive on 18 went right and landed in the middle of a small cluster of trees. His next shot sailed way left over the gallery and into the grandstand fence. He two-putted for a par.
‘Stings a little bit’
“It is going to sting a little bit,” said List. “In a playoff, you can’t give Justin a par because he is going to hit birdies.”
Thomas’ final round was not without controversy. He tried to have a spectator removed on the 16th tee for heckling him and then had to apologize after the tournament for using a four-letter word on the green at 18 when he made the winning putt live on television.
“I feel pretty terrible and uncomfortable. Everybody heard that,” Thomas said.
Woods followed his 69 in the third round with a 70 on Sunday to finish eight shots back of the top spot on the difficult Florida golf course.
Saturday’s 69 was the first score in the 60s in nine rounds this year for the 14-time major winner, who returned to US PGA Tour competition late January at Torrey Pines after back problems.
“I made a big leap this week. I really hit it well,” said Woods, the former world number one.
Woods finished with four birdies, two bogeys and one double bogey on Sunday. He says his game and his problematic back are starting to feel good again and the key is to maintain his rigorous fitness routine.
“I played well this week,” he said. “Overall I am very pleased with the progress I have made.
“My body feels good. I need to keep it feeling good. I need to get back in the gym and keep it strong.”
Earlier this month, woods told a Los Angeles television station that the extended time off, due to injuries, has given him a new appreciation for golf fans.
“I have been home a lot. I haven’t been able to move much the last three months. So many people have just wished me well,” he said.
“I have been away from the game for a long enough time that I saw a side of the public I didn’t know.”