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McIlroy and Spieth’s drop dispute: What happened and who was right?

Rory McIlroy has denied any wrongdoing and insisted his conscience was clear after being involved in a drop dispute with playing partners Viktor Hovland and Jordan Spieth at The Players.

McIlroy grabbed a share of the clubhouse lead with a seven-under 65 at TPC Sawgrass, where he mixed 10 birdies with a bogey and double bogey to set the pace alongside Olympic gold medallist Xander Schauffele.

Starting on the back nine, the world No 2 scrambled a brilliant bogey after finding water with his drive at the par-four 18th, having birdied six of this opening eight holes, then ended up in the hazard once again with his tee shot at the par-four seventh.

McIlroy took a drop before playing his third shot, with the location of where that should be played resulting in a lengthy and heated conversation between the Northern Irishman and the other players in his group.

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Rory McIlroy insists he needs to ‘keep at it’ after a brilliant performance on the opening day at The Players

Why was there an issue?

McIlroy was eight under for his round and threatening a possible course record when he pulled his tee shot, with television replays showing the ball bouncing but not specifically where in proximity to the hazard line.

There’s a large bank that slopes down to the hazard and limits the view of that area, making it difficult to decipher whether the ball had crossed the line before ending in the water.

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Rory McIlroy made the dream start to his opening round at The Players hitting ten birdies to take him joint-top at seven under par

McIlroy viewed that his ball landed above the line, which meant he could take a one-shot penalty and drop it near that point, whereas he would have had to return to the tee box had it been decided the ball bounced the other side.

It was only after the ball was dropped by McIlroy that the players questioned the location, with no camera angle to confirm for certain, resulting in a long conversation before a rules official was called to try and assist.

What was said at the time?

TV camera picked up the conversation between the players, with Spieth saying: “Everybody that I am hearing that had eyes on it are saying they are 100 per cent certain that it landed below the line.”

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, FLORIDA - MARCH 14: Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland reacts and speaks to Jordan Spieth about where his tee shot crossed into the water on the 18th hole during the first round of THE PLAYERS Championship on the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass on March 14, 2024, in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. (Photo by Keyur Khamar/PGA TOUR via Getty Images)
Image: Jordan Spieth questioned Rory McIlroy’s drop during the opening round of The Players

When McIlroy’s caddie, Harry Diamond, asked who Spieth was referring to, the American added: “All these guys (pointing at TV people). They aren’t saying they saw it on camera, they are saying what they saw which is like, it doesn’t mean anything, it is what you guys think.”

“I don’t mean to be a hypocrite, the media people are just saying that they were certain so that is why I was saying ‘hey shall we check so you don’t take a wrong drop’.

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Hovland said: “We don’t know for sure that it crossed the line. I thought it was really close, I can’t say either way. There is no other pictures of it.”

What did McIlroy make of the incident?

McIlroy said he dropped from the right spot and eventually racked up a double-bogey six after failing to find the green with his third shot, with the four-time major champion admitting it was tough to get to an outcome.

“I think Jordan [Spieth] was just trying to make sure that I was doing the right thing,” McIlroy said. “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 was adamant, but I guess I started to doubt myself a little bit. I was like, ‘OK, did I actually see what I thought I saw?’ It is a bit of a [television] blind spot. I think the best view was from the tee, which was the view that we had.”

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How does the group feel now?

Hovland and Spieth chose not to speak to the media after their rounds, with both finishing over par, with McIlroy confident that all in the group were comfortable with how the decision was resolved.

“I think so, yeah,” McIlroy added. “I’m comfortable. I think that’s the most important thing. 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.

Rory McIlroy, of Northern Ireland, reacts after his shot went into the water on the 18th hole during the first round of The Players Championship golf tournament Thursday, March 14, 2024, in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Image: Rory McIlroy is looking to win The Players for a second time, five years on from his 2019 victory

“18 [18th hole] was a pretty similar situation. Again, 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.

“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 with those two drops.”

Radar: McIlroy did the right thing

Sky Sports‘ on-course commentator Wayne ‘Radar’ Riley was following the group, with the Australian referenced by Spieth during the discussions after flagging where a ball had finished earlier in the round.

“I was waiting for the guys in the box to say where it [the ball at the seventh] had crossed because I saw where it bounced – it was a loopy hook and went into the water,” Riley told Sky Sports. “McIlroy has dropped the ball correctly, where we said it was, and then Hovland and Spieth came over to ask questions.

“Spieth then said ‘well Radar interjected on 18’ and I couldn’t believe it! The reason I did there was because I was asked whether I had seen what happened, whereas I stayed away at the seventh!

Rory McIlroy, of Northern Ireland, hits his tee shot on the 15th tee during the first round of The Players Championship golf tournament Thursday, March 14, 2024, in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
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“Spieth played badly today and I understand he has to take it out on someone, so uncle Radar was the guy! He was just in one of those moods today. I don’t know what’s going on with McIlroy and Spieth, because it looked a little frosty to me with those incidents. It was strange.

“I don’t understand why Spieth and Hovland were stood there questioning the drop and then walked away and let him play it. McIlroy dropped it in the perfect place and was also very fair with the one on 18.”

Watch The Players live throughout the week on Sky Sports. Live coverage of the second round begins on Friday from 11.30am on Sky Sports Golf. Stream the PGA Tour and more with NOW.

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