When a golfer of Phil Mickelson's caliber plays his last three rounds with only one bogey, it's usually the proper formula for victory in a major championship for the fourth-ranked player in the world and a man known for making buckets of birdies.
That was not the case after four rounds of the 133rd British Open. Mickelson, who carded a 3-under 68 Sunday, fell a shot short of joining Todd Hamilton and Ernie Els in the playoff. Mickelson missed a three-foot par putt at the 13th hole, ending a run of 49 straight holes without a bogey going back to his 17th hole in the first round. He closed with four pars and a birdie at Royal Troon, and finished the tournament with only four bogeys, one in the last 55 holes.
"To miss by a shot is certainly disappointing," Mickelson said of his third-place finish, his worst major showing in a season in which he has won the Masters and finished second by a shot in the U.S. Open last month with a double bogey at Shinnecock Hills' 17th hole.
"I felt after the first day [when he shot 73], it would have been a lot to get into contention, and I played three very good rounds," he said. "Only one bogey the last three rounds, I'm very proud of that. Just not enough birdies to make up ground."
Mickelson thought if he could simply make pars on Royal Troon's more difficult back nine playing into the wind Sunday, he'd have a chance, because, "I couldn't see that many birdies out there. What Todd and Ernie did is really incredible. It's a very difficult crosswind to get the ball close to the holes the way they did. To get birdies is very impressive. I was just playing for pars on the way back, and I thought that was going to be good enough."
Els and Hamilton had three birdies on the back nine, but Els's second shot at the 11th hole out of the gorse may have been among his most memorable ever. His drive off the 490-yard hole got stuck in the thorny bush and was hanging on a branch about thigh high. He thought about taking an unplayable lie, but instead took a baseball swing and saved a penalty stroke by making contact and moving it 20 yards. He chipped to 15 feet and made the par putt.
"It's unbelievable. I don't think I've ever seen that happen," Els said. "The ball was just kind of hanging there on the branch. If it goes in the bush, I've got to take a penalty drop, and somehow I got it out of there. . . . I was just trying to make contact. I made a great four."
Tiger Woods did nothing particularly great all week and said "too many mistakes" cost him a chance to win his ninth major title and first since the 2002 U.S. Open.
"I had a chance this week and felt like I really could have won this tournament," he said after shooting 72 and tying for ninth at 3-under 281, his best major finish of the season. "I missed a couple of shots on the wrong side of the greens and on links golf courses, you can't short-side yourself. The greens are just too hard and fast."
Bogeys at the 11th and 12th, when he missed the green and failed to convert two 15-footers, ended his chances for the title after getting within three shots of the lead with birdies at Nos. 5 and 6. "It just went the other way over the back nine," he said. "I'll have to take a look at where it went wrong, the mistakes I made and rectify them before the next tournament."