AUGUSTA, Ga. - Before this Masters, early last week when the talk was Tiger's return or Rory's welcome back, Phil Mickelson was asked what it would mean to win his fourth green jacket.
"It would mean a lot," Mickelson said, overstating the obvious.
Asked if he'd care to expound on that answer considering a win would be Mickelson's fourth Masters title - the same number as Tiger Woods and Arnold Palmer - Lefty paused.
"It would mean an awful lot," Mickelson said wryly, drawing laughter and smiles from everyone within ear shot.
At this Masters, Mickelson was masterful, except when he wasn't. And when he wasn't he was, well a lot of awful.
For 70 holes this week, Mickelson was the best player on the planet, and how dearly he would have loved to have been in a playoff on the majestic 18th, the hole he birdied Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
But the tournament is 72 holes - or in this case 74 - and they count all of 'em.
Mickelson made a triple bogey 7 on No. 10 Thursday, part of erratic opening round that he seemed to battle through with the type of resiliency that is normally rewarded around these parts with new green coats.
But his triple-bogey 6 at the long par-3 fourth hole was inexplicable. This was Mickelson's Masters to lose and the experienced veteran did just that in one flash Sunday.
After his tee shot caromed off the grandstands, Mickelson was left with a nearly unplayable shot that forced him to make two swings right-handed, trying to punch out of the bushes down below the left-side of the green.
"I felt like it was worth the risk," Mickelson said about making a right-handed swing as opposed to going back to the tee box. "It may have cost me what, half a shot at the most?"
Those fateful two triples proved to be Mickelson's Waterloo. After bouncing back from the first, the second provided a speed bump too tall to allow any serious momentum. His undoing so thorough Sunday that he played nearly flawlessly other than that triple hiccup at No. 4, and all Mickelson could muster was to fight his way back to where he started the day at 8 under.
Whether it would have been enough against the duel of contrasting styles between Louis Oosthuizen and Masters champ Bubba Watson that was happening in front of Mickelson is unknown.
"I hit a ton of good shots, I just couldn't get the ball in the hole to catch Louis and Bubba, who played some really good golf," Mickeson said of the two guys that stole the show in the growing shadows amid these Georgia pines.
Dressed in all-white with a super-charged hot-pink driver that was sending balls across area codes, Watson looked like part ice cream man and part home-run derby champ. Watson made his way into this back-nine free-for-all with four consecutive birdies, a prize fighter's glare and a walk-off driver piped down the 18th fairway on the 72nd that set up the playoff with Oosthuizen.
Unlike Mickelson, Watson was able to survive his mishaps, including a crooked drive on the 74th. He was left hugging half of the folks in Richmond County and crying unabashedly.
"I never got this far in my dreams, where I had to talk," said Watson, a University of Georgia product who proudly admits to have never taken a golf lesson, that his favorite club is his driver and unleashes a fearless approach that hinges on as long as he has a swing he has a shot. "I just kept my head down and knew there were some birdies out there.
"We joke about it as 'Bubba golf.' I go for it. Seve went for it. Phil goes for it. That's how I play the game."
For his part, Oosthuizen reportedly was super-charged before Sunday's round after getting a note from legendary countryman Gary Player wishing him luck. Of course, we can only imagine that super-charged for Oosthuizen means the guy lovingly known as "Shrek" didn't nod off after lunch. The guy was stoic, unflappable and unbelievable.
After Oosthuizen made the first double-eagle on No. 2 in Masters history, he smiled and flipped the Titleist into the crowd. Sure he smiled, but it was double-eagle for crying out loud, and he shared a piece of Masters history like it was a Tuesday pro-am. His calm demeanor served him well through a back-nine that was filled with highlights and higher pressure, most of it applied by a free-wheeling lefty.
It just wasn't the lefty anyone expected, including Mickelson.
"I'm certainly not satisfied just being in contention," Mickelson said. "I love having the opportunity to win, to compete on Sunday, to come down the back nine with a chance to win the Masters. That's what fun.
"What will I take from this day? Third place. It's not what I was hoping for."