Why it’s time to ‘drop’ this Rory McIlroy controversy

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — Much ado about nothing.

Rory McIlroy’s 7-under 65, which gave him a share of the Players Championship first-round lead on Thursday at TPC Sawgrass, should be admired and celebrated instead of stained by the spot of controversy that seemed to mar it at its conclusion.

After his round, McIlroy expressed how pleased he was with his score and how he’s playing after grinding for five hours Monday at the practice range, where he said he made some fixes in his swing.

McIlroy’s two playing partners, Jordan Spieth and Viktor Hovland, however, appeared far less pleased about McIlroy’s end result after the second of two incidents that involved him hitting 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 to save bogey.

His second felt more controversial and even contentious.

On the seventh hole, he hit his tee shot into the water to the left of the fairway, and he believed the ball landed above the red hazard line before bouncing into the lake. That allowed him to take a drop approximately where the ball landed.

Had it landed 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 suggested that TV angles showed the ball might not have landed above the line.

Rory McIlory points to where one of his shots on the 18th hole went into the water during the first round of the Players Championship. AP

Eventually, McIlroy was allowed to play it where he dropped it, hitting his third shot to 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.

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 jogged past reporters to the clubhouse, declined to speak to the media afterward when asked by PGA Tour officials. Considering how cooperative both players usually are, this was unusual, though 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.’’

Rory McIlroy shakes hands with Jordan Spieth after both players completed their first rounds. Corey Perrine/Florida Times-Union / USA TODAY NETWORK

What was important is the fact that McIlroy, who struggled in his final round last week at Bay Hill, tied the tournament record with 10 birdies and finished 7-under-par despite giving up three shots on those two errant tee shots.

“I think Jordan was just trying to make sure that I was doing the right thing,’’ McIlroy said of the lengthy discussion on No. 7. “I was pretty sure that my ball had crossed where I was sort of dropping it. It’s so hard … because there was no TV evidence.

“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 think [Spieth] was just trying to make sure that what happened was the right thing.’’

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

Asked if it was “awkward’’ having to have that conversation, McIlroy said, “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. [But] I was comfortable, and I was just making sure that Jordan and Viktor were comfortable, too.’’

But were they?

Spieth, according to someone who was inside the ropes on that hole, told an on-course reporter he thought McIlroy should have re-teed on both Nos. 18 and 7.

But Hovland’s caddie, Shay Knight, told a reporter he felt McIlroy was in the right on both No. 7 and 18 in the places where he took his penalty drops.

“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,’’ McIlroy said. “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.’’

He did.

Much ado about nothing.

Leave a Comment