AUGUSTA, Ga. — Judging from Phil Mickelson’s demeanor following Saturday’s third round at the Masters Tournament, one might have guessed he’d just shot himself back into contention for his fourth green jacket.
He was smiling, almost beaming, soaking in the perfect conditions in which he had just played.
“It is a beautiful day here,” Mickelson said. “You cannot get a more majestic day here at the Masters.”
Nor could you get much more of a flawed performance by Mickelson at Augusta National. Needing to post a low number after Friday’s second-round 76, Mickelson instead matched his worst score at the Masters.
A back-nine 40 finished a 5-over 77, which tied the final-round score he posted in 2007 as his worst Masters performance. The effort left him at 8-over 224 for the tourney, just one shot ahead of 14-year-old Tianlang Guan and four ahead of Keegan Bradley, who shot an 82 Saturday.
“I just played terrible, there’s no way around it,” Mickelson said. “I’m just not hitting very good golf shots. I’m missing it in bad spots and not really knowing which side I’m going to miss it on. My play has been beyond terrible and that’s certainly disappointing.”
Starting the day at 3-over and sitting at 4-over entering Amen Corner after near-miss birdie attempts on 9 and 10, Mickelson had to catch fire on the back nine to hold onto to whatever slim chance he had of trying to slide back into contention. Instead, two awful iron shots essentially doused those chances completely.
Catching a break on No. 11 when his drive smacked into the right pines but kicked back out into the fairway, Mickelson failed to capitalize. He pushed his approach left into the greenside pond and wound up making double bogey.
At No 12, Mickelson found the water again — this time pulling his tee shot on the par-3 hole where it caught the bank in front of the green and rolled back into Rae’s Creek. Again, he made double bogey, dropping him to 8 over.
Mickelson found Rae’s Creek again with his approach on 13, but salvaged par. He offset a bogey on 14 with a birdie at 15, but the damage had already been done.
“I don’t know what’s been going on, but I’ve been struggling with my ball striking,” Mickelson said. “It’s not knowing where it’s going to go. I’m 4 over [entering 11], so it’s not like I’m right in the thick of it and it’s a heartbreaking shot that went in the water and cost me the tournament. I just hit a couple of terrible shots.
“I am disappointed. If I look back on it, it’s my iron play that’s been very poor. Poor iron shots in the water, poor distance control missing in the wrong spots. I’ve just had poor iron play this week.”
Mickelson’s worst Masters finish by position was a tie for 46th in his first appearance. His worst overall score was an 11-over 299 in 2007. He’s had two of his three worst rounds at the Masters in the last two days and little indication it will change on Sunday.
“What I love about Augusta National is when you play well, you can score really low like [playing partner] Nick Watney did on the back nine,” Mickelson said. “But when you play the way I did, you shoot quite a few over.”