Mickelson tumbles with five-putt from 18 feet

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Phil Mickelson didn't know how to explain it.

He had no excuses for his slip from unabashed aggression into unthinkable carelessness Saturday in the third round of The Players Championship.

He five-putted the 10th green for a quadruple-bogey 8. The middle three putts were from 5 feet and two of those were rush jobs.

With that ugly turn, Mickelson slipped from fifth place, two strokes off the lead, to a tie for 15th.

Later, he missed another short one -- for bogey on No. 17 -- to close his round of 3-over 75 and finish at 214 for the tournament, seven strokes behind leader Carl Paulson.

"I don't know what to say," Mickelson said. "Those things have happened before in the past, and I don't know what else to say."

It was quite a different post-round breakdown than he gave Friday, when Mickelson -- then one shot out of the lead -- staunchly defended his philosophy of playing aggressively at all times. He said that was the only way he could win, because he needed golf to be fun and interesting to keep his attention.

It sure got interesting on No. 10 Saturday -- but for all the wrong reasons.

The meltdown began on the tee box, when Mickelson hit a loose shot into the deep rough on the right. His second shot flew left of the green, also into deep grass.

This is where Mickelson's short-game creativity usually bails him out. It's a big part of the reason he can play aggressively at other spots on the course. The formula didn't work this time. His chip landed 18 feet from the cup and he hit the first putt about 5 feet past the hole.

He marked, and took his time. But he pulled the second putt, and it skirted the hole and came to rest 5 feet away on the other side. A quick tap-in on most days, Mickelson didn't convert. He rushed his third putt and that left him 5 feet away again. The crowd groaned, then gasped when he left the fourth putt 2 feet away.

Finally, he tapped in for the 8, plucked the ball out of the hole and held his hand out in dismay, before heading to No. 11.

"I just had to laugh about it," Mickelson said. "It's not like I could do anything about it. It was just a fluke deal. I don't know what else to tell you. I tried to laugh it off and play hard the last eight holes."

Playing in the same threesome, Paulson said he and Jeff Sluman were standing there trying to count Mickelson's putts when he finally tapped in.

There were no words of encouragement to offer.

"I wouldn't want anyone patting me on the back if I had just five-putted," Paulson said.

Mickelson thought he actually played OK -- not counting the 10th-green debacle.

"That didn't affect my game coming in," he said. "I felt I held it together, but throwing away that many shots really hurt."