Padraig Harrington was left to curse an ice cold putter as his slim hopes of winning a Masters green jacket on Sunday slipped away on the hallowed greens at Augusta National.
Close to his best on the greens for the first three rounds, the blade let him down when he needed it most as he finished with his only three-putt of the week at the 18th, carding a double bogey six for a level par 72 that left him to tied for eighth on four under par.
The Dubliner, 40, confessed at the start of the week that the putter has been his Achilles’ heel for some time but while he didn’t rue the three-putt, he also refused to lament the half dozen birdie chances he spurned inside 15 feet.
He would have needed almost all of them to drop to make the play-off on 10 under par that ending with Bubba Watson producing a raking draw out of the trees at the second extra hole, the 10th, to beat Louis Oosthuizen with a par four.
But far from being downcast, Ireland’s triple major winner was more upbeat than ever about his game and his future as a major contender.
Pleased after what was a hugely positive week, the world No 96 said: “All the way up until the end, I take a lot of positives out of the way I played today.
“I’ve won three majors, but that’s the most comfortable I’ve felt through 18 holes in the last round of a major and I was in a nice place mentally all day.
“I putted well all week, chipped well. I did a lot of good things this week. I hit it very close every day. I haven’t seen any of the golf, but I’d be surprised if people had as many short putts as I had for birdie today.
“I putted well, I just didn’t hole them. I wasn’t reading them right. But it was a good day all the way save for the double bogey, but it’s no disaster.
“It’s not like it cost me the tournament. It might have cost me a few dollars. That was it. I feel I’m on an upswing, an upturn in my game. I’m looking forward to going forward from here.”
Five behind overnight leader Peter Hanson starting the day, Harrington got off to a solid start when he chipped and putted for par from the back of the first, holing from three and a half feet before holing a nice six footer at the second for birdie after bunkering his second in the front right trap.
He just missed an eight footer for another birdie at the third but by the time he walked off the green he was five strokes behind Oosthuizen, who had a sensational albatross two at the second to get to 10 under.
Another glorious chance escaped when he missed no more than a four or five footer for birdie at the fifth and while holed a 15 footer to birdie the sixth from the fringe and get within three of the lead on six under, he missed another great chance to close the gap on the leaders when he pushed a slick four foot chance wide at the seventh.
Failing to get a birdie at the par-five eighth was a blow and after tree trouble cost him a shot at the ninth, he turned for home on five under and four shots adrift of Oosthuizen, who led by two from Bubba Watson and Peter Hanson at that stage.
Phil Mickelson’s Masters all but ended when he tripled the fourth after an ill-advised effort to hack his way out of some bamboo following an unlucky, Van de Velde style richochet from the railing of the grandstand left of the green.
Like Harrington and Lee Westwood (68), the left-hander would not fire on all cylinders with the putter for the rest of the day though he rallied to card a 72 and finish tied for third with the Englishman, Matt Kuchar (69) and a nervy Peter Hanson (73) on eight under
Harrington’s putting has been his Achilles’ heel for the past year and while it was excellent for the first three days, he wasn’t clinicial enough on Sunday. No doubt that will come with time.
At the dangerous 11th his left foot slipped as he playing his second shot to the water-protected green and tugged it eight feet left of the stick.
Laughing off his good luck after avoiding a watery grave, he again failed to take advantage of another golden chance.
It didn’t matter as much as Oosthuizen bogeyed the 10th to fall back to eight under, just three ahead of the Dubliner at that stage.
Now in the heart of Amen Corner, Harrington needed the golfing gods to smile on him. But while he hit a great eight iron to 15 feet at the par-three 12th, he powered his putt through the break and then edged in the par putt despite taking an early peek at the hole.
CBS commentator Nick Faldo was critical of Harrington’s putting technique, suggesting that his follow through was “scoopy”. Whatever about that comment, the Irish star was running out of holes and badly in need of birdies.
While he believes he was right in the mix until the 17th, his Masters all but ended at the 13th, when he drove right into the pines, played out short of Rae’s Creek but overhit a pitch from around 50 yards and missed a 15 foot birdie chance on the low side to remain three off the pace.
He had another chance at the 14th from just inside 10 feet but after getting a perfect read from a struggling Henrik Stenson, he missed it left.
Running out of holes, the Dubliner’s Masters hopes rested on him getting something out of the 15th - a bogey hole for him over the years. And after barely clearing the water with a hybrid, finishing on the upslope short of the green, he chipped to six feet from the fringe and holed the birdie putt.
That still left him three shots behind Oosthuizen but his chances evaporated for good when his tee shot at the par-three 16th came up 20 feet short and he missed the putt on the low side.
Two putts from off the green at the 17th left him needing an eagle at the last to match clubhouse leader Westwood on eight under.
But he bunkered his approach from the middle of the fairway, splashed out to around 12 feet above the cup and missed again. The putt was so fast that it ran close to five feet past the hole and he missed the one back to slip back to four under.
His focus was broken at that stage and his final round tally of 30 putts left him tied 34th in that category on Sunday with eventual champion Bubba Watson.
Over the week the Dubliner was 10th overall for putting (113 putts) behind top men Mickelson (107) and Poulter (109).