ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Phil Mickelson has spent the past couple of months blasting professional men’s golf’s “establishment” on social media, but rules officials stopped him from making a mistake during the second round of the PGA Championship at Oak Hill Country Club on Friday.
After Mickelson hit his tee shot into the water down the right side of the sixth fairway, he dropped a ball near where he believed his original one had entered the hazard. Mickelson was then going to give himself another two club lengths of relief. He asked playing partner Rickie Fowler if he was correct, and Fowler responded with a thumbs up.
But then a rules official came across the fairway and informed Mickelson that he had taken an improper drop. The rules officials saved Mickelson from being assessed a 1-stroke penalty for playing his ball from the wrong spot. He was 5 over after 36 holes, a score that might end up being right on the cut line.
“The guy came over and saved me a penalty because I had dropped it in the ruling under last year and didn’t realize it had been changed, and he came and saved me a stroke, so I was very appreciative,” Mickelson said after his round.
Initially, Mickelson argued that the first rules official was wrong. He asked for another ruling from a second one. The second rules official agreed with the first. Mickelson thanked the first one for stopping him before he hit his third shot.
“I ended up hitting it in the hazard and took line-of-sight and came back,” Mickelson said. “I didn’t know that they changed the rule this year, whereby you normally could take the point in line and then you have that two-club-length semicircle. I guess in January they changed that to where you just only get line-of-sight.”
Mickelson’s game hasn’t been as good as it was when he tied for second at the Masters in April. He carded a 3-over 73 in the first round and was one stroke better in the second. He has hit only 8 of 28 fairways through 36 holes, which was tied for 133rd in the field when he finished the second round. He was also losing nearly half a stroke to the field in putting.
“I came in here very optimistic,” Mickelson said. “The first two days I’ve played terrible. I’ve driven it poorly. I’ve not felt good with the putter. I haven’t chipped great. My irons have been average. It makes me optimistic that I still made the cut playing as poorly as I did, and I think if I can get it turned around, I can make a run.”
It is Mickelson’s first start in the PGA Championship since he became the oldest man to win a major championship at the 2021 edition at Kiawah Island, South Carolina. He skipped last year’s PGA Championship in Tulsa, Oklahoma, after his controversial comments about the PGA Tour and the Saudi Arabian monarchy’s history of human rights abuses were published.
It is Mickelson’s third major championship at Oak Hill. He also played in his first Ryder Cup there in 1995. He called the setup a “good, hard, fair test.”
“The fairways are repellent, the rough is fair, and the fairway widths are fair,” Mickelson said. “You’ve just got to hit good shots. I’m just a fraction off. This is as bad as I’ve played in a long time, and yet I’m still here on the weekend, and I have a chance to turn it around.”
This story originally appeared on ESPN