Mickelson says tour players ‘loose’ with marking balls

AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — If Phil Mickelson were in charge, Lexi Thompson would have been the one taking the leap into Poppie’s Pond at the ANA Inspiration.

Mickelson tried to avoid speaking specifically about Thompson being penalized four shots for a day-old rules violation for replacing her golf ball in the wrong spot on the putting green. But he couldn’t help himself. And along the way, he raised questions about that happening on the PGA Tour.

“To have a tournament be decided like that, with all the scenarios going around, as far as viewers calling in, as far as it being a 1-foot putt with really no advantage, just a little bit of loose marking, if you will, something that happens all the time, intentionally and unintentionally … I think it should be reversed,” Mickelson said Tuesday. “I think that she should be given the trophy.”

Thompson’s violation occurred on the 17th hole Saturday of the LPGA Tour’s first major of the year when she marked her ball and quickly replaced it in a slightly different spot.

“I know a number of guys on tour that are loose with how they mark the ball and have not been called on it,” Mickelson said. “I mean, they will move the ball 2, 3 inches in front of their mark, and this is an intentional way to get it out of any type of impression and so forth. And I think that kind of stuff needs to stop.”

Mickelson said it should be up to the tour to speak to those players and tell them to be more precise in marking and replacing balls on the green. He said the LPGA also should warn players if it notices them being lax with the procedure.

The penalty took Thompson from a three-shot lead to a one-shot deficit, and she wound up losing in a playoff to So Yeon Ryu. But to give Thompson the trophy, as Mickelson suggested, would have meant to ignore the Rules of Golf.

Mickelson said he didn’t want to expand on his comments any further.

“I feel like we’ve all kind of been a little lax at times in the markings of our golf ball and I hate to see it cost somebody a major championship because of that,” he said.


BROTHER ACT: If the weather holds out, Jordan won’t be the only Spieth hitting a shot in the Par 3 Contest at Augusta National.

Steve Spieth, who recently wrapped up his college basketball career at Brown, will be with his older brother for Wednesday’s just-for-fun event that precedes the start of the Masters.

While the forecast called for another round of heavy showers, Jordan Spieth is hoping it all works out.

“It will be a really cool experience,” the 2015 Masters champion said. “Steven has not been able to make it in past years given (his college) schedule. He hasn’t had the flexibility.”

The younger Spieth averaged 17.3 points per game in his senior season at Brown. He’s still taking classes but was able to carve out some time to be at Augusta for the first time.

Jordan Spieth plans to have a left-handed wedge in his bag so his brother can hit at least one shot.

“I’m not sure — this is up to the green jackets here — if you’re allowed to, but honestly my brother will probably take it anyway,” Jordan said, laughing.


UGLY FORECAST: The practice round for the Masters on Tuesday was busier than usual, perhaps because it might be the final day of practice. After storms closed the golf course most of Monday afternoon, a larger storm with hail, damaging wind and an inch of rain was in the forecast for Wednesday.

Rory McIlroy was planning to play the back nine in the morning and possibly the Par 3 Tournament but said “it looks like that could be a washout.”

The good news for McIlroy? He really doesn’t need it.

McIlroy came to Augusta National two weeks ago and played 27 holes. He returned on Monday and Tuesday of last week and got in 54 holes.

“The more I can just play the golf course and almost make it seem like second nature to me — where to hit the balls on the green and where to start putts and know where the pin positions are — the more that can become second nature, the better,” he said.

Henrik Stenson came to Augusta National a week ago Monday and spent plenty of time on the greens. He arrived again Tuesday and played nine holes in the afternoon.

“And I guess that will be it, unless the weather holds out and we get lucky tomorrow, because then I’ll try to play a few more in the morning,” he said.


WILLETT’S DEFENSE: Danny Willett last year became only the second Englishman to win a green jacket and he needed a bogey-free, 3-under 67 in the final round to do it.

But there’s pressure and then there’s PRESSURE.

And when asked Tuesday to finish the sentence, “Being the Masters champion is better than …” Willett had to scramble.

“My wife’s here,” he chuckled, “so I could get in trouble.”

His final answer: “It’s better than anything within golf.”

Willett doesn’t think defending his title will be much easier.

“You’ve achieved the greatest height in your game. You have got to the pinnacle. You’ve climbed Everest and you’ve put your flag in,” he said. “Unfortunately, you’ve got to either climb down or stay up there, and it’s incredibly difficult to stay up there all the time.”


AP Sports Writers Paul Newberry and Jim Litke contributed to this report.


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