Phil's Sunday best not good enough

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- The good news, Phil Mickelson fans, is that a left-hander won The Masters. The good news is that Mickelson shot a five-birdie, one-bogey 68 in the crucible of a Sunday at Augusta National Golf Club.

That, unfortunately, is where the good news ended. Mickelson, who began the day tied for fifth, four strokes out of the lead, had no answer for Len Mattiace's 65 or for Mike Weir's 68. He finished two strokes behind them at 5-under 283. For the third consecutive year, Mickelson finished third.

"That's better than finishing fourth, I guess, but there's really no consolation out there," Mickelson said.

That's 0-for-43 in majors, if you're scoring at home. While it's way short of the 72 majors that Tom Kite played before he won the U.S. Open, that's not much consolation for Mickelson, either.

"Heading into today, I thought a 68 would do it, that it might very possibly do it. And two guys ran away. They ran away with it, Weir and Mattiace. And I can't control what they do, but I thought that I played well today and I'm very pleased with 68."

Coming off a five-week paternity leave and a missed cut at Atlanta last week, Mickelson played better than he gave anyone reason to expect. When he made a miraculous birdie at No. 2, it looked as if it might be his day.

Mickelson launched his drive into the woods, took a drop, then hit a driver off the pine straw to reach the edge of the green. From there, 90 feet away, the man whose putter has always held a bit of magic made the putt.

"I thought that it was one of the best up-and-downs I've ever had in my career," Mickelson said.

However, he played the rest of the front side in even par. By the time he made a two-putt birdie from 25 feet at the par-5 13th, Mattiace had already reached 6-under. Birdies at Nos. 15 and 18 moved him past his playing partner, Jim Furyk, into third place.

Mickelson has a long way to go to match the frustration of players such as Tom Weiskopf, who finished second at the Masters four times in seven years, or Greg Norman, who finished second three times, each one more painful than the next (1986, to Jack Nicklaus; 1987, to Larry Mize's chip-in; and 1996, when he collapsed on the back nine).

Mickelson played well once again. And once again, he didn't play well enough.

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer at ESPN.com. He can be reached at ivan.maisel@espn3.com.