ARDMORE, Pa. - Merion's 17th green and 18th tee lie in the most peaceful dungeon in the whole golf world.
It was a rock quarry originally, and in the old days they called it the "Infernal Abyss." Late Sunday afternoon, when Phil Mickelson brought his hopes there, a quick but heavy shower had passed through, and the whole bowl glowed, golden and fresh.
Commuter trains whined quietly, just on the other side of the fence. Sparrows hopped around and left footprints in the traps. Perhaps 5,000 fans sat above that green, in giant, British-Open style grandstands.
Many had earphones. They heard that, back up the hill, Mickelson had missed an 8-foot birdie putt, and they had just seen Justin Rose walk like a champion down the 18th fairway and heard that he'd lashed his second shot to probable par range.
"Birdie-birdie, Phil!" someone called out. He would need only one to tie. Since this is the Open, it was too much to ask.
The 17th was shorter on Sunday, just 213 yards, and the pin was on the bottom of the right back shelf. Shawn Stefani had a hole-in-one there earlier. But the ground, soft all week, had taken more water, and Mickelson's tee shot landed about 4 feet too short to ride the ridge.
"I couldn't believe how slow that green was," said Hunter Mahan, Mickelson's playing partner. Mickelson couldn't either. The fans sang "Happy Birthday" as Mickelson approached, but all of their beseeching couldn't get that long birdie putt to the hole.
Now Mickelson had to birdie the 510-yard par-4 18th to draw even with Rose, who was sitting in the white-frame clubhouse with his wife, watching it all, the way Webb Simpson and Angel Cabrera and Geoff Ogilvy also did.
Mickelson fanned his drive into the left rough, couldn't reach the green with his second, and golf became quiet again.
Rose, not Mickelson, was the 2013 Open champion.
For the sixth time in 23 Opens, Mickelson finished second. No one else has done that. The 2006 episode, when he double-bogeyed the 18th, will stand as his donation, but there would be plenty of regrets here, too.
"It's heartbreaking," Mickelson said, although he did not give in to the sadness.
He praised the fans who fought the inconveniences to reach this ground, and he praised the club members who fought to bring the Open back and the neighbors who surrendered their front and back yards to the merchandise hucksters.
But then he always does that.
"Phil is a great leader," Mahan said. "That's not a word we usually use in golf. But he takes time to mentor the young players. He helped me at the Ryder Cup (in 2010, when Mahan flubbed a chip that helped Europe win). He's a great guy."
Rose remembered his singles victory over Mickelson in last year's Ryder Cup, when Rose kept rolling in putt after fanciful putt, and at one point Mickelson, with a guileless grin all over his face, just stood there and applauded.
There are those who will say Mickelson, 43 now, has run out of chances to win this tournament, and that's rubbish. Next year it returns to Pinehurst, where Mickelson finished second to Payne Stewart in 1999.
Here Mickelson was bedeviled by a succession of putts that either banged off the side of the cup or trickled by. He began counting up those opportunities and seemed surprised. "Man, it happened a lot," he said.
What beat him was Rose, of course, and a string of his own mistakes. The par-3 13th was the easiest hole on the course all week and Mickelson bogeyed it because he used a pitching wedge, and flew his ball behind the green.
He also three-putted twice for double bogeys on the front nine. But he also paid for his decision not to bring a driver to Merion.
He chuckled a bit when he cited the hole in which he missed it the most. "I didn't think I'd need it on a par-3," he said, referring to the third, the site of his first double.
"But it's 260 yards into a 20 mph wind. I'm glad the hard holes were harder, but I was surprised that they didn't move the tees up when we were going into the wind."
This day was the book definition of Mickelsonism: two doubles, followed by an eagle on the par-4 10th, followed by a 3-over finish on the final eight.
"If I do win this, I'll be able to look at all these second places differently," he said. "But until then it will feel the same."
The quest continues, until this most predatory sporting event tires of Phil Mickelson as its quarry.