He fell two shots short, and it’s easy to pinpoint where Phil Mickelson lost both on Sunday. But win or lose, it’s always a thrill when Phil is in the hunt, and though he left the grounds without a fourth Green Jacket, he had been fitted with something else.
This was the Masters where Lefty’s love affair with Augusta National was never more evident.
He talked all week of this being the most exciting week for him, the anticipation and emotion of the Tournament, the traditions and energy. His words, his actions (he loves the Par 3 Contest, for instance) seemed to come forth with even deeper meaning this year.
Mickelson is this era’s Arnold Palmer, a role he earnestly embraces.
His play at the Cathedral of Pines brought back memories of Arnie, too. There were wild drives, errant irons, head-scratching putts, but still Mickelson charged ahead. He might not have quite the swagger of The King, but Lefty shares that same go-for-broke style.
Mickelson hit a ball so far left on No. 10 in the first round that nobody saw where it landed. The lost ball led to a triple-bogey 7. But let history show that after going 4-over par through his first 10 holes, he played the next 25 holes in 10-under, without a bogey.
So there he was on Sunday, stalking his fourth Masters title, ready to make his move, when one bad swing at No. 4 led to a triple bogey and cost him the Tournament. He clanked his tee shot to the left off a grandstand railing and into a bamboo thicket. Debate the decisions he made from there to play the ball, but that’s what makes Mickelson such a compelling figure.
He will be inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in May and turns 42 on June 16, the Saturday of the U.S. Open at Olympic Club in San Francisco. He’d cherish a victory there, a title that would soothe past U.S. Open failures and give him three legs of the Grand Slam.
But it’s the Masters and Augusta National that Mickelson loves most.
On Thursday, he unexpectedly showed up for a 7:40 a.m. tee time that was not his. He simply wanted to see Honorary Starters Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player officially begin the Tournament. Mickelson, who wore his Green Jacket, had never done it before and simply wanted to soak in the moment and scratch that tradition off his Masters bucket list.
“I don't know if there's a player on tour who loves Augusta more than Phil,” Hunter Mahan said. “Loves everything about it. You can tell, he puts his coat on when he gets here. He does. He gets off the plane and the coat is on and he comes through the gates here.
“I think it's out of absolute 100 percent respect and pride of being the champion here. It’s great, how he came out Thursday morning and saw the guys tee off. I mean, no one loves this Tournament more than Phil does.”
That never was more evident than this week.
“It’s the greatest day in golf,” he said of Sunday at the Masters.
And then, win or lose, he went out and enjoyed every second of it.