But in great drama there must always be great agony and this was encapsulated in the face of Thomas Bjorn as a putt that he said "all the world thought was in" somehow lipped Baltusrol's final hole and left the Dane on three under. That would still have been good enough for a play-off with Australia's Steve Elkington and the Californian had the latter parred the 18th.
But this was Mickelson's day, and therefore America's day, and the pitch he played to 18-inches from ankle-deep brought the birdie that sent the States wild as it tuned in yesterday morning for the climax of the storm-delayed final round. "If there's anybody you'd back to get up and down from there it's Phil Mickelson," Bjorn said. "And whatever happened to me, Phil deserves it more because he's not a one-major guy he's a 10-major guy."
These were gracious words from the 34-year-old as for at least two seconds out there he must have believed he was about to become the first European winner of the year's final major in 75 years. "A foot from the hole that putt was going nowhere but the middle," he said. "It didn't. That's golf. You deal with it."
Bjorn's well used to that, having watched the claret jug slip from his hands so cruelly at Sandwich two years ago and then the European Open in June when an 11 at the 17th at the K Club could easily have broken forever an admittedly complex psyche. That it did not is the biggest commendation you could give him and also another nod in the direction of Jamil Qureshi, the mysterious hypnotist who has been helping Bjorn recently just as he has helped Nick Dougherty and Steve Webster to win their maiden titles this year.
The phone of the self-styled "mind magician" might be red-hot this morning, especially when Bjorn's Tour colleagues read how he reacted to such a tortuous brush with glory. "All I can take from this are positives," said the twice Ryder Cup player. "My attitude now is that if you keep sticking your nose in there, one day this game is just bound to give you one."
Nobody is better placed to second that than Mickelson, who suffered more near misses than William Tell's son before his emotional duck-breaker at Augusta last year. Then he so famously made the leap of a million reruns as the 18-footer fell; here there was just a simple punch that he put down to it "being only 18 inches and the expectation being a little different".
But, in truth, Mickelson had guessed this was his from the opening round when he first held the lead he was only intermittently to concede.
Not to suggest that the overnight leader's remaining five holes yesterday were a mere formality and the spectral figure of Tiger Woods on the range, booming his driver and praying for a play-off, gave the proceedings an extra frisson, as if they needed it. At two under, and with the two par-fives to finish, the world No 1's hopes of winning his third major of the year were always unrealistic, but the fact he eventually finished just two shots away in a tie for fourth was an extraordinary testimony to his outrageous mix of limitless talent and ceaseless desire. At one stage on Sunday, he was eight behind with seven to play. Woods never gave up, he never stopped believing.
Indeed, there was no need for him to as play resumed and the challengers started dropping like flies. First went Vijay Singh, the defending champion, back to level par and a tie for 10th, and then followed Retief Goosen, finishing on one under in a group including the US Open champion, Michael Campbell. And when Mickelson bogeyed the 16th and Elkington poked it in the trees on the last, Woods must have started to fancy the impossible.
But then the Australian managed to salvage a par to end Woods' suspense and the task for Bjorn and Mickelson was clear: a par for a play-off, a birdie for a major. Bjorn made the perfect start, dividing the fairway, but a tugged three-wood put him in the corner of a bunker he was only to splash out from to 25 feet for the putt that couldn't miss. But did.
It was only left for Mickelson the master of the short game to enact that miraculous up-and-downer. "I've played that chip shot 10,000 times in my backyard before," he said. "It was fun, but a bit stressful." And that said it all.
US PGA Championship (Baltusrol, Springfield, New Jersey) Leading final scores (US unless stated): 276 P Mickelson 67 65 72 72. 277 S Elkington (Aus) 68 70 68 71; T Bjorn (Den) 71 71 63 72. 278 T Woods 75 69 66 68; D Love 68 68 68 74. 279 G Ogilvy (Aus) 69 69 72 69; M Campbell (NZ) 73 68 69 69; R Goosen (SA) 68 70 69 72; P Perez 68 71 67 73. 280 T Purdy 69 75 70 66; D Toms 71 72 69 68; SFlesch 70 71 69 70; D Hart 70 73 66 71; V Singh (Fiji) 70 67 69 74. 281 C Howell 70 71 68 72; S Appleby (Aus) 67 70 69 75. 282 T Clark (SA) 71 73 70 68; Z Johnson 70 70 73 69; T Immelman (SA) 67 72 72 71; J Ogilvie 74 68 69 71; B Van Pelt 70 70 68 74; L Westwood (GB) 68 68 71 75. 283 P McGinley (Irl) 72 70 72 69; S Garcia (Sp) 72 70 71 70; S Katayama (Japan) 71 66 74 72; T Pernice 69 73 69 72; K Perry 69 70 70 74. 284 Bob Estes 71 72 73 68; V Taylor 75 69 71 69; C Campbell 71 71 70 72; A Oberholser 74 68 69 73; J Parnevik (Swe) 68 69 72 75; S Cink 71 72 66 75.
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