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AUGUSTA, Georgia (Reuters) - Phil Mickelson has always been a risk taker on the golf course.
Never frightened to roll the dice even when the stakes are at their highest, the American has endeared himself to a generation of golf fans with his swashbuckling approach and improvisation.
But even the high-rollers lose some time and at the Masters on Sunday, Mickelson gambled and lost big.
At the par three fourth hole, the left-hander's luck ran out when his tee shot hit a metal rail and ricocheted into some nearby bamboo shoots.
Faced with the option of returning to the tee to play his third shot, he decided to take a plunge and play out of the rough but made a complete hash of it.
"If it goes into people and stops right there, no problem. If it goes into the grand stand, no problem (but) it hit the metal railing and shot in the trees," he explained.
"And not only was it unplayable, but I couldn't take an unplayable. There was no place to go other than back to the tee.
"So I took the risk of trying to hit it a few times."
By the time the ball went in the cup, Mickelson had hit it six times - twice playing right-handed. He signed for a triple bogey and plummeted down the leaderboard.
There were still 14 holes left to play but he could not make up all the lost ground and eventually finished two shots behind Bubba Watson and Louis Oosthuizen, who went to a playoff, won by Watson.
Unlike the previous day when Mickelson charged up the leaderboard by covering the last nine holes in 30 shots, he was unable to make any big putts when it mattered.
"I had many chances to make birdies and wasn't able to get the ball to go in," he said.
"They were just coming right up to the edge and just not quite peaking in.
"I had a fun opportunity on the back nine all the way up through 17 holes where if I could have birdied the last two and gotten in the playoff."
He ended up finishing in a four-way tie for third but that was little consolation for the Californian. He has already won the Masters three times but said he wasted a golden opportunity for a fourth green jacket.
"I'm certainly not satisfied just being in contention. I think that I love having the opportunity to win, to compete on Sunday, to come down the back nine with a chance to win the Masters," he said.
"It's certainly disappointing not getting it done, not being able to convert the opportunities on the back nine, not being able to electrify the crowds and make birdies and eagles when I need to and move up the leaderboard.
"It doesn't mean that I didn't enjoy myself, that I didn't enjoy the opportunity but I'm certainly going to be disappointed that I wasn't able to get it done here because I had a great opportunity."
Editing by Nick Mulvenney