Phil Mickelson came to the 18th hole at the British Open figuring he needed par to avoid missing his second straight cut in a major. He set his feet, had one last look down the fairway, took a mighty swing with the driver and watched the ball sail into the iron gray skies.
Mickelson ended another frustrating round at Carnoustie on Friday with a double bogey on his last hole for a 6-over 77, and he missed the cut at 6-over 148.
'I thought I was playing better than this,' said Mickelson, who finished two strokes below the cut line.
He had every reason to believe that. Five days ago, Mickelson was on the verge of winning the Scottish Open until he blew a lead on the back nine, then lost to unheralded Gregory Havret of France on the first playoff hole at Loch Lomond. Even so, it was his first time in contention, or even playing all four rounds, since winning The Players Championship in May.
Was this a step back?
'I don't know. It's hard to say,' Mickelson said. 'I've missed a lot of cuts lately. I missed U.S. Open, Congressional. I better get better. I think my next tournament doesn't have a cut, so that will be nice.'
That would be a World Golf Championship at Firestone. The following week is the PGA Championship at Southern Hills, which will be Mickelson's final chance to continue his streak of winning a major each year that dates to his first one at the 2004 Masters.
As well as he plays Southern Hills, this is not an upward trend.
The 77 on Friday was the ninth straight round at a major that Mickelson failed to break par, his longest stretch since he played par or worse the final nine rounds of the 1999 season, which included a missed cut at Carnoustie.
Mickelson no longer blames the left wrist he supposedly injured at Oakmont, rather his putting.
'I was just never on line,' he said.
It was evident on the 15th hole, where Mickelson three-putted from about 60 feet to fall to 4 over par. First, he had caddie Jim 'Bones' Mackay stand over the ball to make sure the line was the same as Mickelson had in mind. Lefty grazed the left edge of the cup, then missed the 4-foot comeback putt.
He held the putter at both ends, looking as though he wanted to snap it in half.
Although he made a solid par save from deep grass behind the 17th green, his round ended on a sour note. After taking a drop from the burn down the left side of the fairway, Mickelson hit 3-wood to the front of the green and left his first putt 4 feet short. The bogey putt never even touched the hole.
'It was a really fair test,' Mickelson said. 'There were under-par scores out there; I just didn't putt well enough to have one of them.'
He also ran into a rule that applies only at the British Open.
Mickelson's approach to the second hole was imbedded in the right rough, and when a ball is plugged, players usually get free relief. The British Open rule is that imbedded lies only apply to those in the closely mown areas of the course.
Mickelson had to put the ball back, then took a penalty drop for an unplayable lie. The slope was so steep that he dropped it twice and watched it roll closer to the hole, then had trouble making the ball stay put even after he placed it.
He walked up to the green, and a few seconds later, the ball rolled into a beautiful lie short of the green, but no closer to the hole. It was a good break, even though it still led to bogey.
'The rule is it has to be stationary five seconds, which it was,' Mickelson said. 'And then after a minute or so, you just play it where it lies unless I had addressed it, which I never did.'
Then he paused to smile.
'Because I felt like it might roll,' he added.
That was about the only thing that went right for him Friday.