Augusta, Ga. | While Vijay Singh was making a mess of the 15th hole Sunday, Phil Mickelson stood off to the side of the green, staring long and hard at the scoreboard.
What was going through his mind?
“Nothing profound,” he said. “I was just looking to see what everyone was doing.”
Which wasn’t much, Mickelson included. But his effort was enough to put him and his entourage in an upbeat mood as they departed yet another major championship without a trophy. He is now 0-for-39.
“I obviously would like to have played better this week, but I saw a lot of progress in my game,” said Mickelson, whose rounds of 69-72-68-71 secured third place alone at 8-under-par 280. “More consistency, no big numbers, nothing higher than a bogey, and I was very pleased with that. Even though I never really had that stretch of nine holes, say, that vaulted me up on top of the leaderboard.”
If he couldn’t catch Tiger Woods or runner-up Retief Goosen, Mickelson could at least take satisfaction in passing the likes of Sergio Garcia, Ernie Els and Vijay Singh.
“I don’t feel as though it was a missed opportunity, per se,” Mickelson said. “Every tournament, every major is an opportunity, and throughout the four days, I played very solid golf. But I didn’t have that explosive spurt to, again, vault me up on the leaderboard, which you need to have here at Augusta.”
Anyone who saw Mickelson’s sloppy play during a three-hole stretch Friday might take issue with his consistency assessment. At No. 12, he hit a poor chip from behind the green and made bogey; he failed to birdie the par-5 13th after sitting pin high and just off the green in 2; he short-sided himself with his approach to the 14th, then hit an ill-advised flop shot past the flag and had to two-putt from 40 feet to save bogey. When all was said and done, it proved to be a costly stretch.
But to his credit, Mickelson proved himself to be something of a mudder, bouncing back with a bogey-free round in Saturday’s slop.
“I’m real proud of the way Phil played,” said his swing coach, Rick Smith. “He was real tough out there.”
Indeed, it appeared Mickelson might make a serious run at Woods when he birdied the first two holes Sunday, but once again it wasn’t to be.
“I was going to continue to need to get good breaks,” Mickelson said. “I hit a very good shot at No. 3 – a little wedge from 131 yards, very similar to the shot that I had on the first hole. I hit it well and it flew just three or four yards too far and hit the downslope.”
The same thing happened at the fourth hole, where a 5-iron tee shot finished over the green, resulting in back-to-back bogeys that effectively thwarted any run he might make.
“Had I shot 67 or 66, I would have had a very good chance today, as it turned out,” said Mickelson, alluding to the fact that Woods fared no better on the scorecard. “That’s not the easiest thing to do Sunday at Augusta. It was probably possible today, but it would have taken an incredible round and a lot of good breaks. Because to make the putts that you’re going to have here with these pin placements on Sunday, you’re going to have to make some curling, downhill, 20- or 30-foot birdie putts.”
He didn’t, although you wouldn’t know it from his ebullient post-round meeting with the press, which was attended by his wife, Amy, his daughters Amanda and Sophia, and his parents.
“Even though I did not win, this was a very fun and enjoyable week,” Mickelson said. “I know it’s hard to believe. . . .
“Today I thought I was very lucky to be able to play the final round of the Masters here at Augusta, be on the leaderboard and play this game for a living. I’m very fortunate.”