Mickelson, celebrating his 48th birthday, was already four over for the day when he got into all sorts of trouble at the 13th, where he missed a bogey putt before running after his still-moving ball and hitting it back towards the hole before it could run off the front of the green.
The left-hander was happy to accept a two-shot penalty under Rule 14-5, which covers “making a stroke at a moving ball”, although many observers felt he was lucky to avoid disqualification under Rule 1-2, which states that a “player who wilfully deflects or stops his ball to gain a competitive advantage should be disqualified”.
Senior rules official John Bodehamer and his committee chose to implement Rule 14-5, meaning Mickelson actually scored a sextuple-bogey 10 before going on to return an 11-over 81 which left him third from bottom on 17 over par.
“I don’t mean disrespect to anybody,” Mickelson told Fox Sports afterwards. “I know it’s a two-shot penalty. At that 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.”
When asked to explain why he felt the need to prevent his ball running off the green, he added: “It was going to go down in the same spot behind the bunker, and 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.
“It’s certainly not meant to disrespect the championship. 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.”
His playing partner, Andrew “Beef” Johnston, who came home in 44 to sign for an 82 which left him in last place, described the incident as “one of those mad moments” but admitted he could not help but see the funny side.
“We were both obviously really struggling,” he said. “It was funny because I didn’t think he hit that bad a chip shot from behind the green in the first place. And as it released and went through, I thought wow, that is seriously quick.
“So to knock that past and then hit the putt going back towards back off the green, I think it’s just one of the moments where you’re not thinking about it. It just happens, and he just did it.
“I told him it was one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen and then just started laughing, to be honest. I said ‘I’m sorry, but I’ve got to laugh at this’.
“I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s something you might see at your home course with your mates or something. But it was just a moment of madness.
“But it’s nothing disrespectful to me or to the US Open or anything. It’s just one of them things that just happened.”