Tom Watson has praised Phil Mickelson for his record-breaking US PGA victory – and backed him to now go on and complete the career grand slam with a US Open win.
His triumph at Kiawah Island made Mickelson, 50, the oldest men’s major champion in the history of the game.
Watson himself had a brush with that piece of history in 2009 when, at the age of 59, he agonisingly missed out on a sixth Open title, losing in a playoff to Stewart Cink at Turnberry.
Speaking as a ticket ballot for next year’s 150th Open at St Andrews was announced, Watson had nothing but praise for Mickelson’s achievement.
“I thought it was wonderful but it didn't surprise me,” said the eight-time major champion. “Phil still hits the ball a long way. If you can do that you can still perform against anybody on the tour. It was just a matter of keeping away from all the landmines there at Kiawah.
“The up-and-down he made it 18 on Saturday, the bunker shot he holed on the fifth on Sunday, those were typical Phil Mickelson. He is the best short game player in the world so it didn't surprise me that he ended up winning the tournament frankly.”
Like Watson, Mickelson has won three of the game’s four majors and requires only the US Open to truly cement his place in the pantheon of golf greats.
Having hit 50 last June, the consensus was that his opportunity had passed. However, Watson insists his US PGA win has flipped that thinking on its head – good timing with the latest edition of the US Open coming up at Torrey Pines, in Mickelson’s native San Diego – in a fortnight’s time.
“If he can win on the Ocean Course at Kiawah in the PGA he can win anywhere,” said Watson. “That’s a tough, tough, tough golf course. Torrey Pines will be easy compared to Kiawah.
“He’s got the length, he’s got the short game, and obviously he has the desire because he keeps working on his body - look at his calves!”
Watson also had words of encouragement for Tiger Woods, who remains on the injury sidelines following a horror car crash in February.
It is unclear when, and indeed if, the 15-time major champion will return to the game. Watson, though, believes that he will.
“The only thing from a medical standpoint is that since it was his right foot that was damaged, you can play golf with a damaged right foot but you can't with a damaged left foot.
“As a right-handed player you post on your left side so if you have a damaged left side you can't play. You can play with a damaged right side.
“I would suspect that Tiger will be back playing professional golf before next year's Open Championship.”