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Tiger stays in front of Lefty after Bay Hill

ORLANDO, Fla. -- At this point, the feat would be purely symbolic, an interesting footnote in a Hall of Fame career that has nonetheless been played in the shadow of Tiger Woods.

Phil Mickelson has not been ahead of Woods in the Official World Golf Ranking in 14 years.

Such a distinction would have meant a lot more had Mickelson been able to move to No. 1 in the world last year for the first time in his career.

Still, Mickelson had the opportunity Sunday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Had he been able to stay in the top 10 and in front of Tiger, Lefty would have moved to No. 5, trading places with Woods and getting in front of him for the first time since prior to the 1997 Masters.

Instead, Mickelson bogeyed three of the last five holes to drop into a tie with Woods -- who played the last two holes in 3 over par.

While both players admitted some frustration over their finishes at the Bay Hill Club, both pronounced their weeks in gearing up for the year's first major championship at the Masters as a success.

"I feel good about the way I played on the weekend, and the type of shots I was hitting," said Mickelson, whose final-round 73 dropped him to a tie for 24th -- in the same position as Woods.

In every tournament Mickelson played last year following the Masters, there was a scenario by which he could have moved ahead of Woods for the No. 1 ranking -- a total of 15 times.

"I think I'm playing a little bit better this year [going into the Masters], but I'm not getting the results," Mickelson said. "But as far as the way I'm striking it, heading into Augusta last year, I wasn't striking it well and I had a great session with Butch [Harmon] early in the week and it kind of turned things around.

"Whereas [now] I feel very confident with the way I'm striking the ball. I just have to shoot a number."

Woods was on his way to a very good one Sunday. He was 3 under par for his round without a bogey through 16 holes and inside the top 10 on the leaderboard.

Then he barely missed the green at the par-3 17th, coming up a foot short. "The best shot I hit all day," he said. He left his first shot in the bunker, then got up and down for a bogey.

After hitting a 320-yard drive at No. 18 with a 3-wood, Woods said he was in between clubs and came up short with his second shot in the water. The double-bogey dropped him to an even-par round of 72.

"Very simple," Woods said. "I hit three water balls this week and a few missed putts here and there, and I'm not that far behind. Add all that together ... you can't afford to make those mistakes."

Nonetheless, Woods said he was pleased with the progress he made in his game this week despite not contending and stretching his winless streak on the PGA Tour to 16 official events.

"Every day has gotten a little bit tighter, which is good," Woods said. "As I said, keep working, keep staying the course and keep working on the same things and each day is progressing. Today was really nice."

Both players are headed to Augusta National this week for practice and preparation. Woods said he would spend a day or two at the course, come home and then head back for the tournament next weekend.

Woods will enter the Masters having matched his career-longest streak of 10 straight majors without a victory.

Mickelson plans an Augusta visit on Monday and Tuesday before heading to the Houston Open, where he tied for 35th last year the week prior to winning his third green jacket.

"I feel like the year kind of starts now," he said. "It's an exciting time with the best tournament of the year coming up and this week here at Arnold Palmer was a terrific way to set the tone heading into Augusta."

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