Phil Mickelson sparks controversy by hitting still moving ball in US Open

Phil Mickelson appeared to have a rush of blood as he hit a still moving putt Saturday.

By Rob Hodgetts, CNN

It’s his 48th birthday and he should know better, but Phil Mickelson ran after a still moving putt and hit the ball back towards the hole during his third round of the US Open Saturday.

It’s a no-no for kids on a crazy golf course, let alone a five-time major champion and former world No. 2 at the US Open.

The rules of golf state: “A player must not make a stroke at his ball while it is moving.”

Mickelson had a 10-foot putt for bogey on the 13th hole at Shinnecock Hills but the ball slid past and he watched it gather pace down a slope. He then jogged after it and tapped it back up towards the hole.

Mickelson then marked his stationary ball before taking two more putts for an eight, which was later corrected to a 10 after he was assessed a two-stroke penalty.

It dropped the veteran left-hander to 16 over for the tournament, 20 shots adrift of leader Dustin Johnson.

US Open organizer the United States Golf Association said in a tweet: “During play of the 13th hole Phil Mickelson made a stroke on the putting green at the time his ball was moving. As a result, he incurred a two stroke penalty for a breach of Rule 14-5. His score for the hole was 10.”

Another golf rule (1-2) relating to hitting a moving ball states a player “must not take an action with the intent to influence the movement of a ball in play.”

Serious breaches of this rule could result in disqualification.

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‘Take advantage of the rules’

Afterwards, the colorful and at times controversial Californian told Fox: “I was just going back and forth and I’d gladly take the two shots over continuing that display.

“No question it was going to go down into the same spot behind the bunker. You take the two shots and you move on.”

Asked whether he thought his actions were disrespectful, Mickelson added: “It was meant to take advantage of the rules as best as you can. I don’t mean it in any disrespect and if that’s the way people take it, I apologize.”

In a later huddle with reporters he added critics should “toughen up.”

Mickelson began the day six over par and was greeted by an adoring New York crowd singing happy birthday and cheering him around the course.

But four bogeys in a row from the eighth had virtually put paid to any kind of comeback over the weekend before the bizarre scene on 13.

Mickelson finished with an 11-over 81 to end 17 over for the tournament as playing partner Andrew Johnston dropped five shots in his last five holes to end with an 82 for 18 over.

Johnston told BBC Radio 5 Live: “His body acted quicker than his brain. I think you see it in different sports people do these wacky things. He wasn’t doing it in a bad way or to try and get disqualified.

“It’s brutal out there and he was upset the way he played the previous holes. It just got to him. I’ve never seen that in tournament, only when playing with my mates.”

READ: Dustin Johnson leads as Woods, Spieth, McIlroy miss the cut

‘Lost the course’

Shortly after Mickelson finished, two-time major champion Zach Johnson launched a scathing attack on the course set-up.

The American shot a two-over 72 to end eight over, but told Sky Sports the USGA had “lost the golf course,” meaning the course had become out of control and a lottery because of the rising wind and slippery green conditions compared with the morning when Daniel Berger and Tony Finau both shot 66.

“When you have a championship that comes down to sheer luck, that’s not right,” he said.

The Shinnecock Hills course has a reputation for being a brutal test of golf in US Open conditions with slick greens and pins set in tough positions, allied to a baking sun and stiff breeze.

When the tournament was last held at the Long Island venue in 2004 – when Mickelson finished second to Retief Goosen — officials had to water greens in between groups to stop them becoming too glassy.

“They lost it 14 years ago and they’ve lost it again,” Johnson added.

However, Masters champion Patrick Reed saw no issues.

“I feel like they’ve kept it on the correct side. You have to go out and play good golf,” he told Sky Sports.

Mickelson has finished runner-up a record six times in the US Open, the last major he needs to complete the set of all four of golf’s big titles.

Only five players in history have won the career grand slam — Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods.

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“It would mean an awful lot, I want to be the sixth,” Mickelson said before the tournament began.

Mickelson caused significant controversy at the 2014 Ryder Cup at Gleneagles when he criticized the captaincy of Tom Watson in the US team’s losing press conference.