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Mickelson's 'madness': Gross rule manipulation

By Randall MellJune 17, 2018, 12:09 am

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – Phil Mickelson made us rub our eyes.

Running after his ball on the 13th green Saturday at the U.S. Open, to putt it while it was still moving, to prevent his ball from running off the lightning-quick green, made us wonder if we could believe our eyes.

Did the USGA finally push Lefty beyond the snapping point?

Andrew “Beef” Johnston wondered if maybe it did.

“I think it’s just a moment of madness,” Johnston said.

It was the only explanation that rang true in the aftermath, because nothing Mickelson said passed the smell test.

Johnston, Mickelson’s fellow competitor, had a close-up look at Mickelson’s breach of Rule 14-5, “Playing moving ball.”

If you believe Mickelson, there was no madness in what he did. In fact, he thought it was the smart play, quick thinking so he could put up the best score possible on the hole, which ended up being a 10 after the two-stroke penalty he intentionally incurred.

“It was meant to take advantage of the rules as best you can,” Mickelson said.

Mickelson has a reputation for wanting to prove he’s the smartest guy in the room, but even if what he said is true, this play was even more dunder-headed than the one he made on the 18th tee at Winged Foot in 2006. That’s when he used driver to knock his tee shot off a hospitality tent to blow a one-shot lead and leave himself with one of his six second-place finishes in this championship.

Saturday at Shinnecock Hills, Mickelson should have dusted off the line he used at Winged Foot.

“I am such an idiot,” he said back then.

Anybody who knows Mickelson’s history at the U.S. Open knows the frustration he endured at Shinnecock Hills in 2004, when he felt like the USGA unfairly treated groups playing the burned-out seventh green in the final round. Mickelson complained again coming into this week about how unfair it was that the green got syringed for some groups and not others.

“I think it’s a great hole until the USGA gets a hold of it,” he said.

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So when Mickelson so brazenly ran to putt his moving ball on the 13th green Saturday, reasonable people believed he was disgusted again. That he must be making a statement. That he was fed up with the USGA blowing another setup with unfair conditions.

Not so, Mickelson insisted.

He said he believed his ball was going to run all the way off the green, but he knew he could intentionally hit a moving ball for a two-shot penalty and come out ahead.

“I know the rules,” Mickelson said. “I’ve had multiple times where I’ve wanted to do that, I just finally did.”

There’s knowing the rules, and there’s manipulating the rules.

There are the black-and-white rules, and there’s “The Spirit of the Game.”

You’ll find an explanation on Page 1 of The Rules of Golf.

“The game relies on the integrity of the individual to show consideration for other players and to abide by the Rules,” the provision states. “All players should conduct themselves in a disciplined manner, demonstrating courtesy and sportsmanship at all times, irrespective of how competitive they may be. This is the spirit of the game of golf.”

Mickelson’s penalty could have resulted in disqualification if the USGA had interpreted his actions as a violation of Rule 1-2, “Exerting influence.” That rule forbids a player from taking any action to influence the position or movement of the ball. That rule allows disqualification if the violation is deemed a “serious breach.”

Former USGA executive director David Fay wondered aloud during the Fox telecast whether “conduct unbecoming” might apply.

“I would have lobbied for disqualification,” he said. Mickelson also could have been DQ’d under Rule 33-7. That gives the championship committee broad discretion to disqualify a player in “exceptional individual cases.”

USGA CEO Mike Davis said such discretion is for an “outright, egregious situation,” something with more malicious intent.

“Rule 33-7 is rarely used, wouldn’t be appropriate in this case,” Davis said.

USGA senior managing director John Bodenhamer said Mickelson would have had to purposely “deflect or stop” the ball for Rule 1-2 to apply.

“Our Rules Committee mobilized quickly and unanimously decided this situation is specifically and explicitly covered under Rule 14-5,” Bodenhamer said.

Something can be legal and still be wrong.

That’s what the “Spirit of the Game” tells us.

What Mickelson did was wrong, because it showed such disrespect and disregard for the rest of the field. If he were in contention, would he have done what he did to take advantage of the rules? Imagine the outrage.

Even though he wasn’t in contention, Mickelson created such a spectacle, it detracted from the larger event. The U.S. Open was all about him on Saturday.

Whether he was angry and trying to make a statement of protest, or using the rules to his advantage, didn’t really matter. He knew this breach would create a furor. That mattered. He knew the controversy that has dogged the USGA’s questionable setups in recent history would ignite anew.

“I don’t mean any disrespect,” Mickelson said. “If you’re taking it that way, that’s not on me ... If somebody is offended by that, I apologize to them, but toughen up, because this is not meant that way. It’s simply that I just wanted to get on to the next hole and didn’t see that happening at the time. I’ll gladly take my two strokes and move on.”

Mickelson may have moved on, but the U.S. Open grinded to a halt. The spectacle he created put the integrity of the rules and his own motivation into question.

Mickelson has built up a lot of goodwill over the years. While this may not bankrupt his account with the legion of fans who love him, it will diminish it.

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Poulter offers explanation in dispute with marshal

By Will GrayJuly 15, 2018, 6:47 pm

Ian Poulter took to Twitter to offer an explanation after the Englishman was accused of verbally abusing a volunteer during the third round of the Scottish Open.

Poulter hooked his drive on the opening hole at Gullane Golf Club into a bush, where Quintin Jardine was working as a marshal. Poulter went on to find the ball, wedge out and make bogey, but the details of the moments leading up to his second shot differ depending on who you ask.

Jardine wrote a letter to the tournament director that he also turned into a colorfully-titled blog post, accusing Poulter of berating him for not going into the bush "feet first" in search of the ball since Poulter would have received a free drop had his ball been stepped on by an official.

Full-field scores from the ASI Scottish Open

"I stood and waited for the player. It turned out to be Mr. Poulter, who arrived in a shower of expletives and asked me where his ball was," Jardine wrote. "I told him and said that I had not ventured into the bush for fear of standing on it. I wasn't expecting thanks, but I wasn't expecting aggression, either."

Jardine added that Poulter stayed to exchange heated words with the volunteer even after wedging his ball back into the fairway. After shooting a final-round 69 to finish in a tie for 30th, Poulter tweeted his side of the story to his more than 2.3 million followers:

Poulter, 42, won earlier this year on the PGA Tour at the Houston Open and is exempt into The Open at Carnoustie, where he will make his 17th Open appearance. His record includes a runner-up at Royal Birkdale in 2008 and a T-3 finish at Muirfield in 2013.

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Immelman misses Open bid via OWGR tiebreaker

By Will GrayJuly 15, 2018, 6:25 pm

A resurgent performance at the Scottish Open gave Trevor Immelman his first top-10 finish in more than four years, but it left him short of a return to The Open by the slimmest of margins.

The former Masters champ turned back the clock this week at Gullane Golf Club, carding four straight rounds of 68 or better. That run included a 5-under 65 in the final round, which gave him a tie for third and left him five shots behind winner Brandon Stone. It was his first worldwide top-10 since a T-10 finish at the 2014 Farmers Insurance Open.

There were three spots available into The Open for players not otherwise exempt, and for a brief moment it appeared Immelman, 38, might sneak the third and final invite.

Full-field scores from the ASI Scottish Open

But with Stone and runner-up Eddie Pepperell both not qualified, that left the final spot to be decided between Immelman and Sweden's Jens Dantorp who, like Immelman, tied for third at 15 under.

As has been the case with other stops along the Open Qualifying Series, the tiebreaker to determine invites is the players' standing in the Official World Golf Rankings entering the week. Dantorp is currently No. 322 in the world, but with Immelman ranked No. 1380 the Swede got the nod.

This will mark Dantorp's first-ever major championship appearance. Immelman, who hasn't made the cut in a major since the 2013 Masters, was looking to return to The Open for 10th time and first since a missed cut at Royal Lytham six years ago. He will instead work the week at Carnoustie as part of Golf Channel and NBC's coverage of The Open.

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Stone (60) wins Scottish Open, invite to Carnoustie

By Will GrayJuly 15, 2018, 6:06 pm

There's never a bad time to shoot a 60, but Brandon Stone certainly picked an opportune moment to do so.

Facing a jammed leaderboard in the final round of the Scottish Open, Stone fired a 10-under 60 to leave a stacked field in his wake and win the biggest tournament of his career. His 20-under 260 total left him four shots clear of Eddie Pepperell and five shots in front of a group that tied for third.

Stone had a mid-range birdie putt on No. 18 that would have given him the first 59 in European Tour history. But even after missing the putt on the left, Stone tapped in to close out a stellar round that included eight birdies, nine pars and an eagle. It's his third career European Tour title but first since the Alfred Dunhill Championship in December 2016.

Full-field scores from the ASI Scottish Open

Stone started the day three shots behind overnight leader Jens Dantorp, but he made an early move with three birdies over his first five holes and five over his first 10. Stone added a birdie on the par-3 12th, then took command with a three-hole run from Nos. 14-16 that included two birdies and an eagle.

The eye-popping score from the 25-year-old South African was even more surprising considering his lack of form entering the week. Stone is currently ranked No. 371 in the world and had missed four of his last seven worldwide cuts without finishing better than T-60.

Stone was not yet qualified for The Open, and as a result of his performance at Gullane Golf Club he will tee it up next week at Carnoustie. Stone headlined a group of three Open qualifiers, as Pepperell and Dantorp (T-3) also earned invites by virtue of their performance this week. The final spot in the Open will go to the top finisher not otherwise qualified from the John Deere Classic.

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Daly (knee) replaced by Bradley in Open field

By Will GrayJuly 15, 2018, 12:13 pm

Former champion John Daly has withdrawn from The Open because of a right knee injury and will be replaced in the field at Carnoustie by another major winner, Keegan Bradley.

Daly, 52, defeated Costantino Rocca in a memorable playoff to win the claret jug at St. Andrews in 1995. His lingering knee pain led him to request a cart during last month's U.S. Senior Open, and when that request was denied he subsequently withdrew from the tournament.

Daly then received treatment on the knee and played in a PGA Tour event last week at The Greenbrier without the use of a cart, missing the cut with rounds of 77-67. But on the eve of the season's third major, he posted to Twitter that his pain remains "unbearable" and that a second request for a cart was turned down:

This will be just the second time since 2000 that Daly has missed The Open, having also sat out the 2013 event at Muirfield. He last made the cut in 2012, when he tied for 81st at Royal Lytham. He could still have a few more chances to improve upon that record, given that past Open champions remain fully exempt until age 60.

Taking his place will be Bradley, who was first alternate based on his world ranking. Bradley missed the event last year but recorded three top-20 finishes in five appearances from 2012-16, including a T-18 finish two years ago at Royal Troon.

The next three alternates, in order, are Spain's Adrian Otaegui and Americans Aaron Wise and J.B. Holmes.