Rory McIlroy in drop controversies at Players Championship with Jordan Spieth

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — Rory McIlroy shot a 7-under-par 65 to take a share of the Players Championship lead in Thursday’s opening round at TPC Sawgrass.

McIlroy afterward expressed how pleased he was with the score and how he’s playing.

His two playing partners, Jordan Spieth and Viktor Hovland, however, appeared far less pleased about McIlroy’s end result after two incidents that involved rules officials after McIlroy hit tee shots into the water.

On his first water ball, McIlroy, who began his round on the 10th hole, hit his tee shot into the lake to the left of the 18th fairway, took a drop some 290 yards away and drilled his third shot onto the green from there to save bogey.

Rory McIlroy takes a drop on the seventh hole at The Players Championship. PGA Tour/X

His second felt more controversial and even contentious.

On the seventh hole, McIlroy’s 16th of the round, he hit his tee shot into the water to the left of the fairway and believed that the ball landed above the red line before bouncing into the lake.

That allowed him to take a drop approximately where the ball landed.

Had it hit below the red line, McIlroy would have had to hit his third shot from well back, where the ball first crossed the water.

While McIlroy was taking a drop, both Spieth and Hovland appeared to question whether his ball had actually landed above the line and a rules official was brought in.

Spieth appeared to suggest that TV angles showed the ball might not have landed above the line.

Eventually, McIlroy was allowed to play it where he dropped it, hitting his third shot just in front of the green. He was unable, however, to get that up and down for bogey and took a double to drop from the solo lead at 8-under to 6-under, one shot behind Xander Schauffele.

Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth on the 16th hole of The Players Championship on March 14, 2024. Getty Images

McIlroy would birdie the par-5 ninth hole to tie for the lead through the early wave of tee times.

Both Hovland and Spieth, who ran past reporters to the clubhouse, declined to speak to the press afterward when asked by PGA Tour officials.

Considering how cooperative both players usually are with the media, this was somewhat unusual, although Hovland did take a double bogey on his final hole.

When McIlroy was informed after the round that both of his playing partners declined to speak to reporters and was asked if, from his perspective, he felt like everyone was comfortable with the decisions made on No. 7, McIlroy said, “I think so, yeah. I’m comfortable. I think that’s the most important thing.’’

“I think Jordan was just trying to make sure that I was doing the right thing,’’ McIlroy went on. “I mean, I was pretty sure that my ball had crossed where I was sort of dropping it. It’s so hard, right, because there was no TV evidence. I was adamant. But I think, again, he was just trying to make sure that I was going to do the right thing.

“If anything, I was being conservative with it. I think at the end of the day we’re all trying to protect ourselves, protect the field, as well. I wouldn’t say it was needless. I think he was just trying to make sure that what happened was the right thing.’’

Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Viktor Hovland discuss McIlroy’s drop on No. 7. Rory makes double bogey to move from solo leader to T2.— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) March 14, 2024

Asked if it was “awkward’’ having to have that conversation with his playing partners, McIlroy said, “I guess I started to doubt myself a little bit. I was like, ‘OK, did I actually see what I thought I saw?’ I was adamant that I saw it bounce above the red line, but then when someone comes in and says, ‘Well, someone thought that it didn’t,’ then it just puts some doubt in your mind.

“It’s up to you to be comfortable enough with your decision that you did see what you saw, I guess. I was comfortable, and I was just making sure that Jordan and Viktor were comfortable, too.’’

McIlroy said he saw the ball bounce and added, “It was just a matter of whether it was above the line or below, and I thought I saw it pitch above the line.’’

He called the situation on 18 “pretty similar’’ to No. 7, adding, “Again, (I was) adamant it crossed, it’s just a matter of where it crosses. I think this golf course more than any other, it sort of produces those situations a little bit.

Rory McIlroy had no issues with his decision. AP

“I feel like I’m one of the most conscientious golfers out here, so if I feel like I’ve done something wrong, it’ll play on my conscience for the rest of the tournament. I’m a big believer in karma, and if you do something wrong, I feel like it’s going to come around and bite you at some point. I obviously don’t try to do anything wrong out there, and play by the rules and do the right thing. I feel like I obviously did that those two drops.’’

At the end of the day, McIlroy tied the tournament record for most birdies in a round with 10. He shot 65 while losing three shots on those two water balls.

“It would be nice to shoot 62 and not have two in the water,’’ he said with a laugh.

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