Two players who did enough right for 71 holes to win the U.S. Open made a pair of bad decisions on the last hole to lose it. Mick and Monty both made double bogey Sunday on No. 18 to walk away not as winners, but in a bewildering tie for second.
'I had it right in my hands and I let it go,' Mickelson said. 'I just can't believe I did that.'
Maybe the most shocking thing about these two final-hole collapses was that they didn't have as much to do with Winged Foot -- the ridiculously unforgiving course that produced the first over-par winner at a U.S. Open since 1978 -- as they did with the players' own poor decision-making.
Montgomerie headed into the 72nd hole tied with Mickelson after arguably the best putt of his tortured career in the majors -- a 75-footer that snaked in for birdie. Montgomerie followed by hitting a perfect drive down the right side of the 18th fairway.
Monty was 172 yards from the hole with a perfect stance, a perfect lie and a perfect angle into the green. With Mickelson listing behind him, all the Scot needed to do was hit what should have been a routine shot into the green, two-putt, get out with par and wait a while, maybe for a win, almost certainly no worse than a playoff.
All week, Montgomerie had been talking about how Winged Foot suited him because it was built for tee-to-green players like him, good ball-strikers on the tee and in the fairway.
'I thought the adrenaline would kick in and I hit it about 10 yards further in that circumstance,' Monty said.
The ball fell about 10 yards short, in the deep rough right of the green.
'It was a poor shot, there's no question about that, and I put myself in a poor position,' Montgomerie said.
Though he'd been getting up and down all day, it wasn't to be this time. His chip flew high and bounced hard, about 35 feet past the hole. His first putt went 10 feet past on the other side. His next one just missed. By the time he had taken his double-bogey 6, he was out of contention, slumping off the course a loser, 0-for-58 in the majors and surely not to be remembered well for his latest collapse.
Could it have been that he was thinking too much about winning, knowing that at 42 his good chances at a breakthrough are dwindling?
'There were no thoughts of victory at all, no,' he insisted. 'I was just having a Sunday game. Just a few people watching, that's all.'
On most days, Monty's meltdown would have been the talk of the tournament.
But there was another, even uglier, fiasco still to come from Mickelson.
At 4 over and needing a par on 18 to win his third straight major, or a bogey to guarantee a playoff against Geoff Ogilvy, Mickelson could have played it safe.
In fact, he insisted he was doing just that when he grabbed his driver to hit 'my bread-and-butter shot, which is just a big, fadey, carve-slice' down the 18th fairway. It was more slice than carve, however, and it came to rest close to the hospitality tents known as the Champion's Pavilion.
Others might have taken a smaller club and gone for accuracy off the tee. Not Phil.
'I carried only a 4-wood,' Mickelson said. 'I felt like if I hit 4-wood and missed the fairway, I'd be too far back to be able to chase one down there.'
He'll never know.
He did, however, concede that he regretted his decision to try to slice the ball back around a tree and toward the green with a 3-iron on his next shot. That shot started slicing too soon and hit a tree branch. In all, it went forward about 25 yards, leaving him in desperation mode.
'Obviously, in hindsight, if I hit it in the gallery and it doesn't cut, I'm fine,' Lefty said of the untaken option to hit straight out and get a free drop in the rough near the grandstand.
The rest of it played out like a typical Mickelson tragedy. Third shot plugged into the bunker. Fourth shot goes over the green. Fifth shot -- the one that would have forced the playoff -- comes from the rough near the green and isn't close. Sixth shot falls and puts him in a three-way tie for second with Montgomerie and Jim Furyk.
Montgomerie and Mickelson now have nine second-place finishes in the majors between them.
'I had it there and let it go and I cannot believe I did that,' Mickelson said, yet another time.
Surely Monty would agree.