'I really thought it was going to be my day,' Mickelson said.
Then he got to No. 17 at Shinnecock Hills, a little par-3 known as 'Eden.' With two excruciating jabs at the ball, Mickelson's hopes of reaching paradise - a second straight major and the first two legs of the Grand Slam - were done.
This was Lefty playing a more familiar role - the lovable loser. The guy who three-putted from 5 feet with a major title in his grasp.
Instead, it was Retief Goosen winning the Open, his second in four years, by doing what Mickelson couldn't Sunday - finishing the job at 17.
After blasting out of a bunker in front of the green, Mickelson had a chance to save par from 5 feet. Hardly a gimme when the hole is downhill, the greens are like a hardwood floor, the wind is blowing and a major championship is on the line.
Still, it was the kind of testy putt Mickelson had been making all week.
He tapped the ball gently, watching helplessly as it drifted to the left, missing the cup by an inch or two and rolling another 4 feet.
A huge setback, to be sure, but Mickelson could have kept the pressure on Goosen by making the come-backer for bogey. With two holes left and the course playing as tough as any in Open history, one stroke was hardly a commanding edge.
But Mickelson pulled the next putt, just missing to the right this time. He finally tapped in, but the gallery that had been so raucous just moments earlier was now sitting in stunned silence.
Mickelson closed with a 1-over 71, leaving him at 2-under 278 for the tournament. Goosen was the only other guy who managed to break par, winding up at 276 with a 71 that maintained the two-stroke lead he had at the beginning of the day.
For the third time in six years, Mickelson was runner-up in America's national championship.
'This is a championship I really want to win, so it's disappointing,' he said. 'But I also feel like I played well in some very difficult conditions. I was confident in some very difficult positions. I'm very pleased with the way I played for four days.'
Indeed, Mickelson shouldn't hang his head too low. Under intense pressure, he tied for second-best round of the day. Robert Allenby was the only player to shoot par, and he wasn't in contention. Plenty of other big names were totally overwhelmed.
Tiger Woods closed with a 76. Vijay Singh shot 77. Ernie Els, tied with Mickelson at the start of the day, soared to an 80.
Mickelson surged into the lead for the first time all day with a stretch of three birdies in four holes, capped with a short putt at the par-5 16th that sent the gallery into another Phil phrenzy.
Goosen, playing in the final group just behind Mickelson, was in full-scale scramble mode. He kept making mistakes, but bailed himself out with one clutch putt after another.
Mickelson teed off at 17, hoping to hold the green but not too upset when the ball landed in the front left bunker. It balanced on top of the sand, a good lie that allowed him to make the shot he wanted. But he hit the ball above the hole, leaving himself a tricky putt.
In hindsight, it's the sand wedge he'll remember, not the two missed putts.
'I could do whatever I wanted - spin the ball, not spin the ball,' Mickelson said. 'I just didn't judge accurately how the ball would react to that green.'
Goosen made birdie at 16 about the time Mickelson was preparing to putt. When the South African teed off at 17, he had a two-stroke lead. He also drove into a front bunker, but got up-and-down for par.
'I knew that these last two holes were going to be the key holes,' Goosen said. 'I made a good putt on 16 to get even with him, and then he made a mistake and I was, as they say, lucky to hang on.'
If nothing else, this loss wasn't quite as painful for Mickelson as some of his other close calls in the majors.
No one can take away his Masters victory two months ago, the first major title of his career after 42 fruitless tries as a pro.
'No question. Having now won a major, I don't have to answer the same questions about being second again,' Mickelson said. 'As opposed to finishing second this week, which I look at as a very positive sign. I played very well in difficult conditions and came so close.'
A more familiar role for Mickelson.
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