By Mark Lamport-Stokes
PACIFIC PALISADES, California (Reuters) - It was a case of so near yet so far for playing partners Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley after they lost to fellow American Bill Haas in a playoff for the Northern Trust Open Sunday.
Mickelson and his protégé Bradley appeared to have momentum on their side after they rolled in lengthy birdie putts at the par-four last in regulation, amid deafening roars from the crowd, to join Haas in sudden death.
However, Haas went on to claim a stunning victory at the second extra hole, the driveable par-four 10th, where he rolled in a 43-footer for birdie.
"It was a lot of fun," Bradley, 25, told reporters after narrowly missing a 15-foot birdie putt to keep the playoff alive at Riviera Country Club.
"Playing with Phil in the final group and kind of holding my own and making one (a birdie putt) on top of him on 18 was something I'll never forget.
"But it's the first time I've been on the other side of one of these playoff losses and it doesn't feel as good," added the 25-year-old, who beat compatriot Jason Dufner in a playoff to win last year's PGA Championship in Atlanta.
After watching his mentor Mickelson roll in a 26-footer on the final hole of regulation, Bradley followed suit by draining a 13-footer before pumping his right fist in delight.
"I knew Phil was going to make that putt," he said. "I was honestly ready for him to make it, and I knew that having to putt second would be difficult because the crowd is so behind him.
"But credit to the crowd, they really quieted down for me. After Phil made his putt, I gave him a fist pump and he looked at me and said, 'Join me'.
"He really meant it. Even though I didn't win the tournament, to make that putt on the last hole, one of the toughest holes on the PGA Tour, is really awesome."
Mickelson, who had been bidding for a second consecutive victory on the PGA Tour, briefly led by two shots during Sunday's final round but lost valuable ground with three-putt bogeys at the 14th and 15th.
"I was very tentative on the greens today," the left-hander said. "I wasn't trying to be. I was trying to knock them in, but they just weren't as fast as I was perceiving them to be.
"That last putt (in regulation) was one I just gave a good aggressive roll and it went right in the middle.
"I kept fighting, and I was giving away shots. I was trying to let it go and move on and see if I could capture one, and I finally got one to go on 18. It felt great."
Riviera's notoriously difficult greens ran fast and firm in dazzling afternoon sunshine, giving the final round the feel of a U.S. Open, Mickelson said.
"It was very defensive because the greens were so firm and the pins were tough. Although there was no rough, it was very U.S. Open-esque."
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Peter Rutherford)