SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. -- Phil Mickelson needed something low inat Shinnecock Hills. Instead, he went off the rails on the par-4 13th and went the wrong way on the leaderboard while celebrating his 48th birthday Saturday.
Mickelson, who was 4 over through the first 12 holes, saw an 18-foot bogey putt trickle past the hole and on its way to falling off the green. Instead of waiting for the inevitable, Lefty ran over to the ball while it was still moving ... and hit it back at the hole.
Unsurprisingly, he missed that one, too. Mickelson then missed the following putt before finally sinking one for what would have been an eight. However, because he hit a moving ball, Mickelson was assessed a two-stroke penalty. Add them all up, and Mickelson walked away with a 10 on the par 4. He would go on to finish off an 11-over 81 on Saturday, matching his worst round ever at a U.S. Open. He's 17 over for the week.
With his score now a 10 at the par-4 13th, Phil Mickelson is 10 over par for the day through 15. Three pars would leave him at 80. His highest scores in 27 U.S. Opens:— Mike O'Malley (@GD_MikeO) June 16, 2018
81: Pebble Beach, 1992
80: Hazeltine, 1991
79: Oakmont, 1994
78: Olympic, 2012
As a large swath of salivating reporters encircled the scoring tent where Mickelson understandably deliberated over a wacky scorecard. Lefty kept us waiting ... and waiting ... and waiting ... and waiting. After several minutes, he finally exited and offered up some, uh, interesting explanations.
"Look, I don't mean disrespect to anybody. I know it's a two-shot penalty. At that time, I just didn't feel like going back and forth and hitting the same shot over," Mickelson explained. "I took the two-shot penalty and moved on. It's my understanding of the rules. I've had multiple times where I've wanted to do that; I just finally did. ...
"I don't know if I would've been able to save the shot or whatnot, but I know it's a two-shot penalty hitting a moving ball. I tried to hit it as close to the hole as I could to make the next one, and you know, you take the two shots and you move on."
Rule 14-5 says you may not hit a moving ball, thus the penalty Mickelson was assessed. There was actually some chatter about Mickelson being disqualified based on Rule 33-7 or Rule 1-2; however, the USGA decided to penalize him under Rule 14-5 and not Rule 1-2 because Mickelson did not deflect or stop the ball.
"Our Rules Committee mobilized quickly and unanimously decided this situation is specifically and explicitly covered under Rule 14-5," explained John Bodenhamer, senior managing director of championships and governance for the USGA. "To go to Rule 1-2 -- Phil didn't purposely deflect or stop the ball, which is talked about in the reference under Rule 14-5, if you look at it. [Rule] 14-5 explicitly covers a player making a stroke at a moving ball, and so we operated under that rule."
"Again, the rule is clear," Bodenhamer said later on. "He made a stroke at a moving ball, and we just operated under that. Getting into intent there, we operated under what the rule said, him making a stroke in that manner."
Here are all the rules that could have come into play. Ultimately, only Rule 14-5 was applied.
Rule 14-5: A player must not make a stroke at his ball while it is moving.
Rule 33-7: If a Committee considers that a player is guilty of a serious breach of etiquette, it may impose a penalty of disqualification under this rule.
Rule 1-2: A player must not (i) take an action with the intent to influence the movement of a ball in play or (ii) alter physical conditions with the intent of affecting the playing of a hole.
Note 1: A player is deemed to have committed a serious breach of Rule 1-2 if the Committee considers that the action taken in breach of this Rule has allowed him or another player to gain a significant advantage or has placed another player, other than his partner, at a significant disadvantage.
As such, Mickelson was not disqualified. Still, this was a bizarre turn as part of a stunning round for a man who now has to wait another 12 months before his next bid at winning the career grand slam.
After signing his scorecard, Mickelson explained that he did not make the move meaning to disrespect anyone. Therefore, while he did not regret the action, he hopes anyone who is upset can ultimately understand his stance and forgive him.
"It's certainly not meant [to be disrespectful]. It's meant to take advantage of the rules as best as you can. In that situation, I was just going back and forth, and I would gladly take the two shots over continuing that display," he said. "... I've had an awesome day. The people here have been incredible, signing me 'Happy Birthday,' wishing me 'happy birthday.' It's made coming here over the decades an awesome experience. It's a fun birthday. I don't mean it in any disrespect, and if that's the way people took it, I apologize it to them."
Mickelson smiled his way through the entire swarm of questions from inquiring reporters and handled every single one of them. However, his explanation that he more or less broke the rules to gain an advantage -- he literally said the words "it's meant to take advantage of the rules" -- doesn't stand up very well.
The USGA applied the rule they wanted to apply and did so within reason. But Mickelson broke the rules on purpose -- he even said so -- and being allowed to do with no repercussion other than a two-stroke penalty is not a great look for anyone.