Westwood mired in major waiting game

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- It was the ultimate awkward moment.

Upon closing out his third career Masters victory, Phil Mickelson bounded from Augusta National's 18th green, finding wife Amy nearby. As the two shared a lengthy, emotional embrace, runner-up Lee Westwood -- Mickelson's playing partner in the final round -- idly stood in the background, watching the scene unfold.

What else could he do? Westwood certainly couldn't barge past, nor did he have anywhere else to go. And so … he waited.

It was nothing new for the 36-year-old from Worksop, England, who has gotten used to playing the waiting game at major championships. He came within a 72nd-hole putt of reaching a playoff at the 2008 U.S. Open; he had a chance to hole the eventual winner at last year's Open Championship, but missed that -- and the comebacker for a tie, too; he finished just outside the Y.E. Yang-Tiger Woods pairing at the ensuing PGA Championship; and on Sunday, he came critically close to claiming the Masters Tournament, parlaying the 54-hole lead into a solo second-place result.

This isn't quite the Fanned Slam. Or the Canned Slam. Call it the Bland Slam.

"The closer I get to winning these major championships, the more I want the next one to come around," said Westwood, who now owns nine career top-10s in majors. "When you've come close, there's a tinge of disappointment straight off. I was disappointed walking up to the last green, obviously. But once that's passed, I didn't do too much wrong today. I can walk away with a lot of positive thoughts and memories from this Masters."

Clearly, the latest edition of this tournament was won by Mickelson, not lost by Westwood. The latter raced to rounds of 67-69-68 during the first three days, pouring in birdie putts and making more than his share of gutty par saves. His final-round tally of 1-under 71 was the worst score of any player in the top seven, but it included four birdies -- the first three of which countered his three bogeys on the day.

In the end, though, he was lapped by the lefthander, a multiple-Masters champion who shot a bogey-free 5-under 67 to win by 3.

Westwood's post-tournament reaction was a far cry from the one he displayed at Turnberry, when he believed a birdie was necessary to force a playoff, then hit an overly aggressive putt and made bogey, watching in horror as Tom Watson in the group behind also bogeyed, meaning his par would have earned a spot in the playoff. After that event, he said his emotions ran from "frustration to sickness." But he was more upbeat this time around.

"If you sat me down at the start of the year and asked me to rate which ones suit me, I would probably put the Masters last and say it was the one that suited me the least," Westwood said. "So to finish second is obviously a massive boost for the rest of the year. I've just got to keep doing the things I'm doing. I think my short game can still improve -- even though it's a lot better. It was a master class from Phil out there around the greens. That's the sort of standard you've got to be up to."

If anyone could sympathize with Westwood, it was Mickelson. The mercurial fan favorite had competed in 42 career majors as a professional, brandishing the double-edged "Best Player Never To Have Won A Major" label prior to earning his first green jacket here in 2004. And so he understands his opponent's pain and knows his dismay.

"As I said to him, there's nothing I can say," Mickelson intimated after the round. "I've been in that position, and it sucks. But I also told him he is playing some of the best golf of anybody in the world, he's an incredible player and I pull for him. And I want him to win his first major soon, because he is that kind of talent, that type of player and a quality guy."

There's no doubt Westwood's time will come. He's too gritty, too stubborn and, most important, too talented to continually watch other players hug their wives in celebration on Sunday afternoons at these tourneys without tasting victory himself. The biennial Ryder Cup competitor owns 20 career European Tour wins, claimed the inaugural Race to Dubai last year and is currently No. 4 in the Official World Golf Ranking.

He would likely trade all of those accolades for some major championship hardware, but Westwood has no regrets about the outcome among the Augusta pines this week.

As he said after the final round, "I wouldn't have done anything differently today, really."

No, Lee Westwood will take this performance and learn from it. He will use it to his advantage, let it fuel his ever-increasing motivation. And he will remember everything about this Masters week as a positive experience -- awkward moments and all.

Jason Sobel is a golf writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com.