SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. — We could try to attempt to explain what Phil Mickelson, celebrating his 48th birthday by playing the third round of the U.S. Open, just did on the 13th green at Shinnecock, but it's beyond comprehension. Four over on his round after making five bogeys on his previous eight holes, Mickelson faced a slick, downhill 18-footer for bogey. Mickelson's putt then rolled past the hole and it did not appear like it was going to stop before rolling off the front of the green. Inexplicably, Mickelson ran after his ball and hit it while it was still in motion on the green:
It's a jaw-dropping move from Mickelson, and something that actually has happened before in a U.S. Open. John Daly did it at the par-4 eighth hole at Pinehurst in 1999 and walked away with a 13, eventually carding an 83. Afterwards, Daly claimed he had taken the penalty on purpose as a protest against the USGA placing so many precarious pins on Pinehurst No. 2's mounded greens. Kirk Triplett also did it at the U.S. Open in 1998 at the Olympic Club, stopping his ball in motion with his putter on the 18th green when he already knew he was missing the cut.
It's not clear why Mickelson did it, and he's gone about his round almost as if it didn't happen, continue to smile and thumbs up in typical Phil fashion.
Counting his strokes, Mickelson wound up making 8, but according to the USGA website, his score for the hole has been recorded as a 10. Presumably that score includes any penalty for hitting a moving ball. Whether there will be any more consequences after the round when he goes to sign his scorecard is unclear. Stay tuned.
UPDATE: The USGA released a statement regarding the penalty assessed to Mickelson:
"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."
Per the USGA's website, Rule 14-5, "Playing a moving ball," says that a player "must not make a stroke at his ball while it is moving." This is different than Rule 1-2, which covers a ball purposely deflected or stopped by player, partner or caddie, and also is a two-stroke penalty.
John Bodenhammer, the USGA's senior managing director, championships and governance, spoke to the media while Mickelson was still completing his round:
"Phil Mickelson was assessed a two-stroke penalty on the 13th hole for making a stroke at a moving ball," Bodenhammer said. "He was assessed a two-stroke penalty under Rule 14-5, which explicitly covers this.
"We've recently spoken to Phil, and he understands the ruling and has accepted it."
When pressed about Rule 1-2, Bodenhammer had this to say:
"Our Rules Committee mobilized quickly and unanimously decided this situation is specifically and explicitly covered under Rule 14-5.
"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. 14-5 explicitly covers a player making a stroke at a moving ball, and so we operated under that rule."
Mickelson finished with an 11-over 81, the worst U.S. Open round of his career.
UPDATE: In another odd turn of events, Mickelson clarified what happened with Curtis Strange afterwards, saying he was using the rules to advantage and just wanted to get the hole over with.
"Look, I mean no disrespect by anybody," Mickelson said. "I know it's a two-shot penalty, and at the time I just didn't feel like going back and forth and hitting the same shot over. 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.
"It was going to go down in the same spot behind the bunker. I wasn't going to have a shot. I don't know if I was able to save a shot or not. I know it's a two-shot penalty hitting a moving ball. I tried to hit it as close as I could on the next one, and you take the two shots and move on."
When Strange asked him if it was disrespectful to the championship, Mickelson said that wasn't the case.
"It's certainly not meant that way. It's meant to take advantage of the rules as best as you can. In that situation, I was just going back and forth. I would gladly take the two shots over continuing that display.
"I don't mean it in any disrespect. And if that's the way people took it, I apologize to them, but that's not the way it was taken. I took the two-shot penalty, moved on, and there's not much more to say."