Phil Mickelson walked off the No. 14 green at Quail Hollow Club with a one-stroke lead on the field, a smile on his face and fans reaching over the rope to touch him.
A close call for eagle had almost given him a two-shot lead, but he took the birdie and at 9-under was four holes from winning the Wells Fargo Championship that had eluded him the past decade.
Then came the weather, and it seemingly stole Mickelsons short-game powers that helped position him atop the leader board all week.
Then came the courses Green Mile, the three finishing holes, where he eventually gave a stroke back at 16 and 17 and couldnt get the one he needed at 18.
The tournament was Mickelsons to lose in the final holes Sunday.
There is just no excuse. It wasnt easy, but it wasnt anything out of the ordinary or difficult. I should have made par, he said.
Before he reached the final, wet stretch of holes, Mickelson went to the par-3 13th at 8 under with overcast, dry skies above him. With the pin behind the bunker on the left side, Mickelson attacked the tough hole location, putting his iron shot 15 feet from the hole. His birdie attempt missed, but the shot showed Mickelson was ready to be aggressive.
His tee shot at the par-4 14th was just short of the green, and his eagle chip from the rough rolled within 3 inches of the hole. That birdie put him at 9 under for the tournament 1 under for the day and gave him a one-stroke lead.
The rain, which had come in spurts for most of the day but held off for the previous four holes, began falling when Mickelson entered the bunker for his third shot at the par-5 15th. He had put the ball where he wanted after two shots, and he had a short sand shot up the hill to putt for birdie.
Instead, he left the bunker shot nearly 12 feet short, then left his birdie putt short. He made par.
I thought my target was to get to 10 under, Mickelson said, I felt like if I could get to 10 under I would most likely win the tournament, and 15 was a critical hole
I should have never been that far short. The putt was right in the middle of the hole, left it short. And that hole cost me, because going into 16, 17 and 18, you really want to have a couple-shot advantage. Its very hard to par those last three
The substantial rain continued, this time not letting up as it had earlier in the round. On 16, his third shot went long of the hole, and a testy downhill 7-footer deceived Mickelson, forcing him to take a bogey and drop into a tie for the lead.
He then needed three putts to finish the par-3 17th, leaving his first two putts short of the hole and carding his third bogey of the day.
The 17th and 18th holes arent really holes I could call birdie holes, Mickelson said. So I was fighting to hold on to that one-shot lead, thinking that it was going to be tough to par in to try to win. And sure enough, 16 and 17 got me.
His putt from the fringe of the 18th green ran past the hole, but he saved par to card 7 under for the tournament and a third-place finish.
All week Mickelson defended the courses greens, signed countless autographs and praised the tournament unceasingly. That love was reciprocated by fans.
He had six top-10 finishes in nine previous appearances at Quail Hollow, but not until Sunday had he been outpaced by a single stroke.
Im pretty bummed out, Mickelson said. I would have liked to have won this one. I felt like I was in control and I let it slip away there the last few holes, so it was disappointing.
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