Mickelson's 12th-hole blunder stings

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- From the moment the ball left the clubface, you could tell it was in trouble. The golf gods don't appreciate shots hit to the right of the Sunday flag at No. 12. And so, almost on cue, it hit the bank and trundled back into Rae's Creek.

It was already hard to breathe at Amen Corner, such were the circumstances with Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods charging toward the top of the leaderboard, but the air was seemingly sucked right out of the place when Mickelson's untimely tee shot got wet.

"I was trying to hit a 9-iron over the bunker,'' Mickelson explained. "If I pull it, it usually goes a little bit longer. That was really a terrible swing. After so many good irons shots I had hit. That was a bad shot. I thought it would go right over the bunker and I yanked it.''

Mickelson had other chances to make a historic comeback Sunday at the Masters, but he will long rue the mistake you just cannot make at one of the most famous par-3s in the world.

And when you consider that tournament winner Angel Cabrera made a par there and the other playoff participants, Kenny Perry and Chad Campbell, each made a birdie at the hole, you get a feel for the crucial turn of events.

Mickelson gave up two strokes there to the eventual winner -- he finished three behind -- and three to the other playoff participants.

Only one other player who finished in the top-10, Jim Furyk, even made a bogey at No. 12. Everyone else made either a par or a birdie.

Cabrera, Perry and Campbell all did what they had to do on one of the most treacherous par-3s in golf. A birdie is a bonus, par is your friend. Each gave themselves a chance to win the tournament by making it past that hole and then making a birdie at the par-5 13th.

"It is no place to gamble,'' Jack Nicklaus once said of the 155-yard 12th. "There are places out here to take chances, but No. 12 is not one. It comes down to whether you want to keep it in play, or go for a 2 and come away with a 5.''

Nicklaus could very well have been talking about Mickelson, who made a double-bogey on the hole and wasn't able to recover, even with birdies at the 13th and 15th holes.

The 12th is one of the more amazing holes in the game. Nicklaus has long called it "the most dangerous par-3 in the game. You never know what is going to happen.''

Mickelson could have used some of the luck Fred Couples got at No. 12 in 1992. It was at the same hole, same pin location, where Mickelson's approach came up short, although it was farther left on the green than where Lefty's ball landed.

Couples' ball trickled back toward the creek -- then inexplicably stopped on the back, two feet from the water. He chipped it onto the green and made a par when he faced at least a bogey or worse.

"You don't ever get a break like that,'' Couples said. "It was the biggest break probably of my life. I'm sure a million people watching on television were wondering why it didn't go in. So was I.''

Plenty of players have found the water at No. 12 over the years. Such is the nature of the hole.

Tom Weiskopf, for one, knocked five balls into the water during the first round of the 1980 Masters on his way to the highest score in tournament history, 13. "You're standing in front of the world, and it's like you're playing the hole naked,'' he said.

Mickelson certainly didn't feel that way Sunday. He bounced back to give himself more chances and just didn't convert.

But once again, the little par-3 12th played a role in the outcome of the Masters.

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.