Phil Mickelson chases and swats moving ball with putter at U.S. Open

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. -- Saying that he meant no disrespect to the game or the tournament, Phil Mickelson defended his decision to hit a moving ball that was rolling off the green during the third round of the U.S. Open, saying that he'd "still be out there,'' if he had not violated the rules.

Mickelson, who celebrated his 48th birthday on Saturday at Shinnecock Hills, saw his bogey putt on the 13th hole slide low of the hole and begin to trickle away to the point that he ran after it and hit it again back toward the hole before it had stopped, stroking the ball past the hole a second time.

From there, he two-putted, and was assessed a 2-stroke penalty for hitting a moving ball, leading to a score of 10 on the par-4 hole. He shot 81 for the round.

"I don't mean it disrespectful; if you're taking it that way, that's not on me,'' Mickelson told reporters after the round. "I'm sorry that you're taking it that way, it's certainly not meant that way. Sometimes in these situations, it's just easier to take the 2 shots and move on.''

John Bodenhamer, the United States Golf Association's senior managing director of championships and governance, said Mickelson was penalized two strokes under Rule 14-5, which addresses a player hitting a moving ball.

It seems that Mickelson avoided further penalty of disqualification because he did not stop the ball; while a technicality, he hit it while moving, which is deemed to be different and under consideration for a "serious breach of etiquette.''

"That can happen, [but] that's not what we operated under here,'' Bodenamer said. "We are operating strictly under [Rule] 14-5, which is pretty clear that he played a moving ball. We are operating under what we saw.''

Later, according to USGA chief executive Mike Davis, Mickelson called to clarify the situation.

"Phil really did want to understand how the rule operates because he didn't want to ... as he said to me, 'Mike, I don't want to play in this championship if I should have been disqualified,'" Davis said. "That's where we clarified that 'Phil, you make a stroke at a moving ball, so we have to apply that rule.'

"That's different than if he had deliberately just stopped the ball or whacked it in another direction or something like that. So it's just us applying the rules.''

Mickelson, who has six runner-up finishes at the U.S. Open, has a painful history at Shinnecock, where he tied for fourth in 1995 and was second in 2004 during a particularly controversial week due to course setup.

The five-time major champion and Hall of Famer has not been shy about criticizing the USGA for the way it has set up its championships, particularly at Shinnecock. But he praised the setup earlier this week and said again Saturday that it was tough and "everyone has to play it.''

Mickelson played the third round with England's Andrew "Beef'' Johnston, who had a hard time believing what he was seeing.

"I said that's one of the strangest things I've ever seen and then just started laughing, to be honest,'' Johnston said. "I said, 'I'm sorry, but I've got to laugh at this.'''

Asked if he had an issue with what Mickelson did, Johnston said: "No, not at all. Again, I've never seen anything like it. It's something you might see at our home course with your mates or something. But it was just a moment -- I think it's a moment of madness.

"But it's nothing disrespectful to me or to the U.S. Open or anything. It's just one of them things that just happened.''

Mickelson, however, said he did not have a momentary lapse and did not do it out of frustration. He offered that he knows the rules and that taking a two-shot penalty was better than the alternative.

"I just didn't feel like going back and forth and hitting the same shot over,'' he said. "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.''

Mickelson's 81 matched his highest score in 101 U.S. Open rounds, this his 27th U.S. Open. His other 81 occurred in 1992 at Pebble Beach, when he was making his professional debut.

With rounds of 77-69-81, Mickelson finished 54 holes at 17 over par and is tied for 64th.