Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els reach century mark at 99th PGA

Ernie Els played in his first major at the 1989 Open at Royal Troon. Phil Mickelson's first time playing one of golf's four biggest events came at the 1990 U.S. Open. They celebrated with a cake Tuesday at the 99th PGA Championship. Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

CHARLOTTE -- The photograph is 33 years old now. It depicts the young winner and runner-up of the 1984 World Junior Golf Championship at Torrey Pines, their emotions hardly faded over time.

On the left is a fair-haired boy from South Africa named Theodore, who goes by his middle name of Ernie. A smile across his face, his pipe-cleaner arms look as if they can barely lift the massive trophy in front of him. On the right is a gangly kid with the top three buttons of his shirt undone. His name is Philip and just in case the smaller trophy doesn't tell the story of his result that day, the sullen expression on his face summarizes it nicely.

"Do you see how grumpy Phil looks there?" Ernie Els asked with a laugh on Tuesday afternoon.

"It doesn't seem that long ago," countered Phil Mickelson, "but it sure looks a long time ago."

The two of them sat next to each other during a joint interview session in advance of this week's 99th PGA Championship, the 100th career major start for each. They reminisced about the good times, relived the bad times.

Ninety-nine majors has left room for plenty of both.

Els recalled his first one, the 1989 Open Championship at Royal Troon, when he sported a bad haircut, wielded a persimmon driver and employed his brother as caddie. He spoke about the four majors he has won -- two U.S. Opens, two Open Championships -- and the ones that got away.

"I was ready to win quite a few," he offered with no discernible bravado. "And then when Tiger [Woods] came in '97, and him winning the Masters in the way he did, that kind of threw me off a little bit. ... I had quite a few run-ins with him in majors. It wasn't really very close, but I finished second to him many times. But as Phil says, this guy, he's so special, and he absolutely changed the game ... But I could have had a couple more, definitely, without him around."

If Els' story of major championship triumph and tragedy is protracted, then Mickelson's is downright Shakespearean.

It took until Mickelson's 47th major appearance -- amateur starts included -- before he finally prevailed at the 2004 Masters. He has won five in total, but the lone blind spot remains the U.S. Open, an event in which he has finished second a record half-dozen times.

"I set out when I was a kid to try to win all four, because it shows what a complete player you are to play under all those different conditions," he explained. "I think that's the real challenge, because each major provides such a different set of challenges."

Mickelson and Els will become the 13th and 14th players to reach triple digits in major championship starts. It's a list that begins, no surprise, with Jack Nicklaus, who played 164 majors.

(When asked, tongue-in-cheek, whether he'd like to play every major for the next 16 years to equal that mark, the 47-year-old Mickelson simply smiled and replied, "Oh, no. I'm not going after that record.")

He -- or Els -- could set a little history this week at Quail Hollow, though. None of the 12 players who have played 100 won in their 100th. Raymond Floyd (second at the 1992 Masters) came closest. Bernhard Langer (T-8 at the 2014 Masters) had the only other top-10 finish. Seven missed the cut, largely playing their 100th major in the twilight of their careers.

The number alone is enough to leave a younger star a bit starry-eyed. Rory McIlroy is 28 years old and competing in his 36th major this week. He would have to play every one of them until his 45th birthday in order to reach triple digits -- certainly a plausible task, but one that left him realizing he has a long way to go.

"Feels like I've played a hundred so far," he joked. "It would be nice to get to that number one day ... That's pretty good longevity right there."

Mickelson and Els -- Lefty and The Big Easy -- are well aware.

On the brink of their 100th, neither is content to go through the motions and just play another major. They each contend that the fire to compete, to win, still burns.

"If you enjoy the challenge and enjoy the process, [if] you enjoy putting in the work and you enjoy putting in the time, I think you end up doing it," said Mickelson. "For me, golf has always been very therapeutic. It's been a great way to kind of calm my mind and have a great direction and something to focus on. It's been a huge part of my life ever since I was a couple years old and started playing."

"That's a brilliant way to look at it," Els responded. "I've still got the hunger for it, I really do. Hopefully I can get something going, get some momentum going, and who knows."

When they were done with the interview session, the two posed for another photograph together, 33 years after the first one. They were presented with a cake for their achievement, and so they stood behind it, each one with an arm around the other's shoulder, and let the cameras click away.

This time, they were both smiling.