Phil Mickelson sparks controversy as four players tie for US Open lead
The veteran American -- celebrating his 48th birthday -- ran after a still moving putt and hit the ball back towards the hole during his third round.
It's a no-no for kids on a crazy golf course, let alone a five-time major champion and former world No. 2 at the US Open.
But the left-hander's admission he deliberately incurred a two-shot penalty rather than risk running up a bigger score sparked criticism that he had bent the usual etiquette and spirit of the game.
The incident will always dog the colourful and often controversial Californian -- he later told critics to "toughen up" -- but Mickelson's mad-cap moment was just the start on a crazy day at Shinnecock Hills.
Two-time major winner Zach Johnson said the USGA had "lost the course" because the strengthening afternoon wind combined with slick greens and tough pin positions had made some holes extremely challenging.
Greens such as the 15th appeared to unfairly penalize good shots which landed close to the pin but ran off the putting surface.
Other players, however, were more measured and accepted the challenge for what it was. "It's a grind. But it's the US Open, you just have to keep plugging along. The guy who moves on the quickest usually plays the best," Koepka told Sky Sports.
Mike Davis, chief executive of the USGA said later: "We want the US Open to be tough, but we saw some examples late in the day where well executed shots were not only not being rewarded, but in some cases penalized."
Amid the furore, there was still a golf tournament to be won, and when Dustin Johnson missed a putt on the final green he fell back into a four-way share of the lead going into Sunday's final round.
The world No.1 is tied at three over with defending champion Brooks Koepka, alongside Daniel Berger and Tony Finau, who both carded rounds of 66 in benign morning conditions on Long Island.
England's 2013 champion Justin Rose was one of a number of overseas players who had to endure abuse from a raucous and highly charged New York crowd, but he held his nerve to sit one shot further back.
Twenty two players are bunched within five shots of the lead. They will be mindful that Arnold Palmer set a record US Open final-round comeback of seven shots when he won in 1960.
But Saturday at Shinnecock will always be remembered for Mickelson's antics.
The American had a 10-foot putt for bogey on the 13th hole, but the ball slid past and he watched it gather pace down a slope. He jogged after it and tapped it back up towards the hole as it was still rolling.
Mickelson then marked his stationary ball before taking two more putts for an eight, which was later corrected to a 10 after he was assessed a two-stroke penalty.
It dropped the veteran star to 16 over for the tournament, 20 shots adrift of then leader Dustin Johnson.
The USGA invoked Rule 14-5 which states a player "must not make a stroke at his ball while it is moving."
According to the body, it was not relevant to apply golf rule 1-2 which says a player "must not take an action with the intent to influence the movement of a ball in play." Serious breaches of this rule could result in disqualification.
"He didn't deflect it or stop it. He played a moving ball. He made a stroke at a moving ball, which is, again, it's just explicitly covered under 14-5," said USGA official John Bodenhamer.
'Take advantage of the rules'
Afterwards, Mickelson, who finished with an 11-over 81 to end 17 over, told Fox: "I was just going back and forth and I'd gladly take the two shots over continuing that display.
"No question it was going to go down into the same spot behind the bunker. You take the two shots and you move on."
Asked whether he thought his actions were disrespectful, Mickelson added: "It was meant to take advantage of the rules as best as you can. I don't mean it in any disrespect and if that's the way people take it, I apologize."
Mickelson is no stranger to controversy and caused significant ructions at the 2014 Ryder Cup at Gleneagles when he criticized the captaincy of Tom Watson in the US team's losing press conference.
Mickelson's playing partner Andrew Johnston, who also struggled, told BBC Radio 5 Live: "His body acted quicker than his brain. I think you see it in different sports people do these wacky things. He wasn't doing it in a bad way or to try and get disqualified.
"It's brutal out there and he was upset the way he played the previous holes. It just got to him. I've never seen that in tournament, only when playing with my mates."
'Lost the course'
Shortly after Mickelson finished, Zach Johnson launched a scathing attack on the course set-up.
The 2007 Masters champion and 2015 British Open winner told Sky Sports the USGA had "lost the golf course," meaning the course had become out of control and a lottery because of the rising wind and slippery green conditions.
"When you have a championship that comes down to sheer luck, that's not right," he said.
The Shinnecock Hills course has a reputation for being a brutal test of golf in US Open conditions with slick greens and pins set in tough positions, allied to a baking sun and stiff breeze.
When the tournament was last held at the Long Island venue in 2004 - when Mickelson finished second to Retief Goosen -- officials had to water greens in between groups to stop them becoming too glassy.
"They lost it 14 years ago and they've lost it again," Johnson added.
However, Masters champion Patrick Reed saw no issues.
"I feel like they've kept it on the correct side. You have to go out and play good golf," he told Sky Sports.
Mickelson has finished runner-up a record six times in the US Open, the last major he needs to complete the set of all four of golf's big titles.
Only five players in history have won the career grand slam -- Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods.
Mickelson may one day join that group, but "putt-gate" won't help his reputation.
US Open: Dustin Johnson leads as Woods, Spieth, McIlroy miss cut
The 33-year-old was the only player left under par after another challenging day which claimed the scalps of Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy on Long Island.
The 2016 champion shot a round of 67 through a burst of cold morning rain to set the bar at four under par ahead of fellow American Scott Piercy, the runner-up two years ago, and compatriot Charley Hoffman.
As rain gave way to a still, warm afternoon conducive to scoring, Johnson was hunted down by a pair of Englishmen in New York. But Ian Poulter undid all the effort of clawing to within one shot of the lead with a triple-bogey on his penultimate hole, while Justin Rose ended with two bogeys to finish alongside his countryman on one over.
Another Englishman Tommy Fleetwood shot the low round of the week -- a 66 -- to also finish on one over with former Open champion Henrik Stenson and defending US Open champion Brooks Koepka.
'Patience a virtue'
Phil Mickelson, still searching for a first US Open win to complete the set of all four majors after six runner-up spots, carded a one-under 69 to inch to six over, two shots inside the cut. Mickelson has been runner-up in four US Opens in the New York area, including at Shinnecock Hills in 2004, and is a firm favorite of the local crowds who would love nothing more than a trademark charge on his 48th birthday Saturday.
But the tournament for now is in the hands of Johnson, who has married an impressive short game with his prodigious length to open up a sizeable gap after sharing a four-way tie for the lead after round one.
Johnson was reminiscent of playing partner Woods in his prime as he strode the fairways in complete control, seemingly impervious to the trials befalling others. He carded just one bogey and four birdies, including a monster 45-foot effort across the green of the short seventh.
The key, he said, was not getting angry.
"It's a tough golf course, tough conditions, so it's very important to stay patient all day," he said.
"Why am I going to get upset about a bad shot I hit? I do it every day when I play. So you just got to go find it and hit it again."
'Can't fake it'
Woods, playing his first US Open since 2015 after multiple back surgeries, resumed at eight over, looking to make some amends for Thursday's disappointing opening round. A birdie at his first hole, the 10th, suggested he was in the mood to claw his way back up the leaderboard on the 10th anniversary of his 14th and last major title.
He also birdied the 16th but two bogeys canceled out his good work to reach the turn level par for the day, and he hit the buffers early in the back nine.
He made a double bogey on the first hole -- scene of Thursday's opening triple -- and also bogeyed the short second to plummet to 11 over.
Another shot went on the sixth, but like the Woods of old he kept fighting to the end and closed with back-to-back birdies to end 10 over.
"I'm not very happy the way I played and the way I putted," Woods told reporters.
"You don't win major championships by kind of slapping all around the place and missing putts. You have to be on.
"You just can't fake it at a major championship."
McIlroy, who won the last of his four majors in 2014, had effectively played himself out of the tournament with that career-worst major round of 80 Thursday, and despite improving by 10 shots he was still comfortably outside the cut at 10 over.
"I felt like my game was good coming in here. I just felt like I was blown away by the wind Thursday," he told Sky Sports.
His playing partner Spieth began the day eight over and had slipped to 11 over after 11 holes before four straight pars set up a late scramble to make the cut. But back-to-back bogeys to finish punched an early ticket home for the three-time major champion who will defend his British Open title at Carnoustie next month.
Poulter was fuming with himself after following his triple-bogey with a bogey at the last as he chases a first major title following second in the British Open in 2008.
"Finishing like that is really disappointing," he told Sky Sports.
"It's a sour taste to what was a great day. Up to that point I felt very in control. It's frustrating to finish like that but I'm not going to think about it.
"I'm up there hunting in a major so I'm doing the right thing."
Justify's value skyrockets to $60M with Triple Crown win at Belmont Park
The three-year-old chestnut colt became the 13th horse ever to win the Triple Crown of the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes after a dominant victory at Belmont Park in New York Saturday.
Forbes has estimated that once retired, Justify could demand an initial $100,000 stud fee -- giving him a $60 million value based solely on breeding fees if he were to cover 150 mares per breeding season for four years.
Depending on the racing performances of his offspring, this value could rise even higher.
In England, Godolphin stallion Dubawi's stud fees have risen from £25,000 ($34,000) to £250,000 ($334,000) after becoming the fastest ever to sire to 50 Group race winners.
"The day the horse leaves the racecourse is the end of his career and his future is entirely determined by the success of his progeny," says Sam Bullard, director of stallions at Dalham Hall Stud in Newmarket, part of Sheikh Mohammed's Godolphin racing outfit.
Justify has won all six races he has run this year -- Seattle Slew was the only other undefeated horse to win the Triple Crown in 1977.
It's an impressive feat for a horse that only started racing 113 days ago and was originally purchased for $500,000.
Justify's hall-of-fame trainer Bob Baffert said the win was meant to be.
"I wanted to see that horse's name up there (with the other greats) because we know he was brilliant from day one," he told reporters.
Baffert has trained more winners in Triple Crown races (15) than anyone -- he also trained 2015 Triple Crown champion American Pharoah.
Following the Belmont Stakes race, some began to accuse another one of Baffert's horses, Restoring Hope, as assisting Justify and jockey Mike Smith by blocking other horses in the race.
However, Smith was quick to dispute those claims.
"I don't see how (Restoring Hope) got in anyone's way," the jockey told CNN Sport's Don Riddell. "I went back to look at (the footage) after I read that, I've checked it several times. Everyone got a fair shot at me.
"Justify was on his game that day, so I don't think -- on that day -- anyone was going to beat him."
Justify will travel from Belmont Park to Churchill Downs in Kentucky to get a "week or so" off before owners decide what's next for the undefeated horse.