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Mahan, Donaldson penalized; caddie accepts blame

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PINEHURST, N.C. – A record-setting 36-hole score wasn’t the only unusual thing that happened Friday at the U.S. Open.

Even more bizarre: Hunter Mahan and Jamie Donaldson hit each other’s golf balls during the second round at Pinehurst. For Mahan, who finished at 6-over 146, the resulting two-shot penalty was a significant reason why he likely will miss the 36-hole cut. Even before the penalty, Donaldson was already assured a short stay here, and he finished at 11 over.

Here’s what happened:

Both players found the left side of the fairway on the par-4 18th hole, their ninth of the day. John Wood, the caddie for Hunter Mahan, was the first to arrive at the golf balls. Back on the tee, it had looked like Mahan’s tee shot kicked right and was thus in the left-center and that Donaldson’s ball had hugged the left edge.

Wood walked to the balls first, calculated the yardage and gave the number to Mahan, who played his second shot without concern. Donaldson and Francesco Molinari, the third member of the group, then played theirs.

It wasn’t until Donaldson went to mark his ball on the green that he discovered the mistake. Both he and Mahan were playing Titleist golf balls with a slash through the number, an uncommon marking.

“You can’t imagine yourself doing something as colossally stupid as that,” Wood said afterward, “but I did. I won’t forgive myself very soon after this.”


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Mahan and Donaldson had to go back to the fairway and play their fourth shots from their actual position. Had they gone to the next hole without discovering the error, they would have been disqualified. Both players wound up making double bogey on the 18th hole.  

“I still can’t grasp what happened; it doesn’t make any sense to me,” Wood said. “You’re out here for 17 years, every day, and you know where the ball goes.”

Wood said he apologized to both players on the next tee, and Mahan rebounded with a birdie on No. 1. Three bogeys in his last six holes, however, likely spoiled any chance of playing the weekend.

Donaldson declined an interview request afterward. Mahan also declined, though he said through a USGA spokesman, “Off the tee it looked like that’s where my ball should have been, and I couldn’t explain to you how it ended up where it did. Just got to pay more attention. … It’s one of those fluke things.”

Wood spoke to a few writers for five minutes, saying the mistake was “100 percent my fault.”

When asked why it wasn’t ultimately the player’s responsibility to play the correct ball, Wood said that he should “take most of the heat” and that it was “mostly” his fault.

“I went to the ball first and you kind of take the lead of the people in the group at that point,” he said. “I don’t believe I did something that epically dumb, but I did.”