AUGUSTA, Ga. - Phil Mickelson, who was trying to become just the fourth man to successfully defend his Masters championship, started the final 18 holes at 6-over par, which normally would leave you in one of the early Sunday pairings. But this was anything but a normal Masters. Which meant that Mickelson was still somehow in contention for his third title in 4 years, playing in the fifth-to-last twosome with Rory Sabbatini.
But Lefty didn't remain in the conversation for long.
That's because he proceeded to open with a triple-bogey 7. And even though it was very early, it effectively ended his chances. Trouble is, the rules insist you play the full 72. Besides, he had to stick around anyway, since it was his duty to slip the green jacket onto the shoulders of Zach Johnson, who will be picking up the tab at next April's Champions Dinner. Look at the bright side: At least next year Mickelson gets to eat on somebody else's dime.
He actually got to perform the annual ceremony twice. First for the CBS audience, followed by the official deal in front of the clubhouse. Unfortunately, it was one of the few things he got right all week.
"Even after [No. 1], I felt like if I could get back to even by the turn I had a chance," he said. "When it's playing hard and fast like this, it sets up perfectly for guys like [Johnson]. I didn't feel I played that well, or certainly not like I wanted. I'll take a couple of weeks off and get ready for the [Players Championship] and for the U.S. Open."
Mickelson nearly won last year's Open, of course, at Winged Foot. But a double-bogey on the final hole left him tied for second, one out of a playoff. And he hasn't been the same since. He was never a factor here, at a place where he almost always has been.
What that means remains to unfold. But at this point, there are a lot more questions than answers. Which is never a good thing.
Since the first Masters in 1934, only three players have won majors in four consecutive seasons: Jack Nicklaus (1970-73), Tom Watson (1980-83) and Tiger Woods (1999-2002). Phil, who didn't win his first until the 2004 Masters, has a chance to join that company. Stay tuned.