Mickelson had a one-shot lead with eight holes to play Sunday at the British Open, seemingly incapable of making a bogey. But when he fell behind by missing a 4-foot putt on No. 13, he never quite caught up.
'The guys behind me were making birdies,' Mickelson said. 'And I wasn't.'
Mickelson finished one shot out of the playoff, won by Todd Hamilton over Ernie Els.
In any other year, Mickelson's third-place finish at Royal Troon would have been cause for celebration because he had never before been in the top 10 at the British Open. And there is another bright side, too: Once 0-for-42 in majors, they now seem as easy as 1-2-3.
He won the Masters in April for his first major title. He finished second at the U.S. Open after a three-putt from 5 feet on the 71st hole at Shinnecock Hills. And he was closer than ever on the links of the British Open.
'I don't feel like I lost a chance,' Mickelson said. 'I felt I played well, and I thought if I could get to the top of the leaderboard -- or tied -- with nine to go, I could make nine pars. I couldn't see that many birdies out there.
'What Todd and Ernie did is really incredible.'
Mickelson, who closed with a 3-under 68, first tied for the lead by chipping in for eagle on the par-5 fourth. He got there again with a 6-foot birdie on the seventh hole. But he really looked impressive with pars.
Mickelson came up short with a chip on the ninth and saved par with an 18-foot putt. Then his approach ran through the 10th green, down a slope and into thick grass. A bogey looked imminent when he chipped 15 feet past the hole, but Lefty made that putt, too, to stay at 9 under.
Els and Hamilton also were at 9 under and playing behind him, but they were struggling. Els took double bogey on No. 10 after hitting into thick rough twice, while Hamilton missed a 6-foot par putt.
'I was just playing for pars ... and thought shooting even par was going to be good enough,' Mickelson said.
No one was better. Mickelson had not made a bogey since the 17th hole of the first round Thursday, but his streak ended at 49 at the worst time -- a 4-foot miss on the 13th.
By the time he got another birdie on the par-5 16th, Hamilton already had birdied the 11th and chipped in for birdie on the 13th to take a one-shot lead.
Mickelson ran out of holes. Hamilton also birdied the 16th, while Els birdied the 16th and 17th with clutch shots and wound up in a playoff when Hamilton dropped a shot on the final hole.
They headed for the first tee for the four-hole playoff. Mickelson was reduced to signing autographs.
'To miss out by a shot is certainly disappointing,' said Mickelson, who opened with a 73 and was below the cut line until charging back. 'I felt after the first day it would take a lot to get into contention, and I played three very good rounds, making only one bogey, and I was very proud of that.'
With the PGA Championship to come, Mickelson still has another chance to win a second major this year at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin, Aug. 12-15.
But he is also looking ahead to next year's Open at St. Andrews.
'I love this tournament, I just haven't played well in the past,' said Mickelson, whose best finish before Sunday was a tie for 11th at St. Andrews. 'I feel like I've been working hard on the shots that are required over here. I feel I executed them well. It's a little disappointing to fall short here, but it's also very encouraging to know that I'm able to contend in this great championship.'
Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.