Phil Mickelson had every reason to wear the big smile spread across his face after a final-round 5-under 67 Sunday at the Masters.
But anyone who knows Mickelson knows it might have been a bit forced. And plenty bittersweet.
Instead of seeing his best round of the week at Augusta National Golf Club vault him into contention for his fourth green jacket, it merely moved him from the bottom of the field to a more respectable finish. Rounds of 79 and 74 on Friday and Saturday relegated Mickelson to also-ran status and made Sunday's move rather meaningless.
"It was better, but it's never easy being out here knowing what you're missing out on with that back nine here on Sunday at the Masters," Mickelson said. "You know what special things happen on that back nine. You know how fun it is to be part of it in the mix.
"But I went out and had a great day playing with Chez (Reavie). We had fun, I hit some good shots and it was an OK way to finish."
Even in posting a round with five birdies and an eagle, Mickelson found little solace in how he played.
"I hit one good shot this whole week — it was the 7-iron on 17 — which went exactly as I wanted it to. I was just a little bit off. I'll take a week or two off and get back at it.
"I've been very consistent this year, especially off the tee. And then last week and this week, I had some really big misses which I haven't been doing this year. I haven't had big numbers this year and the last two weeks I've had a lot of big numbers."
A day after starting his round with a disastrous triple bogey, Mickelson avoided the big numbers Sunday and even posted plenty of red ones, especially early and late. Riding a hot putter, Mickelson ran off three straight birdies on Nos. 2, 3 and 4 by sinking putts of 10, 12 and 30 feet.
After giving two of those shots back with bogeys on Nos. 8 and 11, Mickelson closed strong. He made a two-putt birdie on No. 13, rolled in a 14-foot eagle putt on No. 15 and then hit the aforementioned 7-iron to five feet for birdie on No. 17.
"I basically just made some putts, it wasn't like I was hitting it close," Mickelson said of his early string of birdies. "It's not like I was knocking down the stick."
Disappointed in his showing this week, Mickelson will turn his attention toward the next major — the U.S. Open, which will be held June 14-17 at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in New York.
It's the only major Mickelson needs to complete his career Grand Slam. And given all his near misses (six runner-up finishes) and his age (47), he knows his opportunities are dwindling.
Mickelson admits it weighs on him plenty. Maybe too much.
"The difficult thing for me is I continue to put a little bit too much pressure on myself in the majors right now because I know I don't have a ton of time to win them, especially U.S. Opens," he said. "But these next two U.S. Opens, Shinnecock and Pebble Beach, give me two really good opportunities. I need to get my game sharp, but I need to be on those weeks. At the past, I've been on at Shinnecock and I'm hopeful to do it again."