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2024 Players Championship: Lengthy drop debate plays out after Rory McIlroy's water ball

2024 Players Championship: Lengthy drop debate plays out after Rory McIlroy's water ball

Rory McIlroy and his fellow playing competitors, Jordan Spieth and Viktor Hovland, weren't just tested on their geometry skills Thursday at The Players.

They put their debate chops to the test as well.

McIlroy rinsed two tee balls into the water, the first at TPC Sawgrass’ par-4 18th hole and the second on the par-4 seventh. While the former prompted some discussion, the latter produced an especially lengthy back-and-forth between McIlroy and the other two players, as the trio spent more than eight minutes trying to determine where McIlroy should drop.

Initially, the walking ESPN+ reporter said that McIlroy’s caddie, Harry Diamond, said that McIlroy’s ball “absolutely” hit above the red penalty line before kicking into the water left of a long fairway bunker. The one television camera angle showed McIlroy’s ball clearly bouncing once, though it was unclear where exactly it pitched.

“That’s an emphatic 250-yard difference,” an announcer said of where McIlroy was looking to drop, and where he’d have to drop, had his ball not crossed in play.

“It bounced into the water but we were just trying to make sure that it was above the red line,” McIlroy shouted over to his playing competitors, who were inquiring about his thought process.

McIlroy took his drop just left of the bunker, with his ball sitting up nicely afterward.

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Screenshot 2024-03-14 at 1.03.35 PM.png

That’s when Hovland walked over, hands in his pockets, and said, “We don’t know for sure that it crossed the line.”

McIlroy replied: “I’m pretty comfortable I saw it above the red line.”

Added Hovland: “I thought it was really close. I can’t say either way.”

Spieth then interjected, noting that media types near the tee told him that the ball didn’t bounce above the red line.

“They’re saying they saw it bounce, but was it above the red line?” Spieth asked McIlroy.

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McIlroy, ‘big believer in karma,’ comfortable with drops

McIlroy had two penalty drops in Round 1 of The Players, with the one at No. 7 leading to a lengthy discussion.

McIlroy answered: “And I’m pretty comfortable that I thought that it did.”

Spieth: “Everyone that I’m hearing that had eyes on it, which again is not what matters, is saying they’re 100% certain it landed below the line.”

McIlroy: “Who are you talking about?”

Diamond: “Who’s everybody?”

Spieth: “TV. They’re saying with their eyes, they didn’t see it on camera ... but again, it doesn’t mean anything.”

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Screenshot 2024-03-14 at 1.08.05 PM.png

At that point, a rules official showed up, and McIlroy explained what was going on: “It went in and it bounced, I’m just trying to figure out…”

Spieth then chimes in again: “We have radar coming in and offering opinion on 18. I don’t mean to be a hypocrite, I’m just saying the media people back there on the tee are saying they were certain. That’s why I thought, Hey, should we check so you don’t take a wrong drop?”

McIlroy: “I want to do the right thing.”

Spieth: “I don’t think there’s any doubt, I think we all agree that it crossed some land. It’s just a matter of where the drop is.”

Hovland: “I wasn’t watching it…”

The rules official, who was checking with TV to see about another camera angle, then noted that there was no video evidence of where the ball landed.

Spieth continued: “I’m comfortable that it crossed some land, I don’t know where it actually pitched. I have no idea.”

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Screenshot 2024-03-14 at 1.11.52 PM.png

McIlroy, noting that his draw was low and not carrying very far: “I would say I probably am dropping it slightly back of where the ball kicked in. I’m sort of trying to split the difference.”

Hovland: “Did the volunteer not see where the ball went in? To me, I believe it crossed over the turtles back there if it didn’t land above the red line. … Splitting the difference, I don’t…”

McIlroy: “I think it pitched above the red line, but we’re not certain so I’m trying to be safe.”

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Screenshot 2024-03-14 at 1.15.37 PM.png

Rules official: “Do you feel like this is too close?”

Hovland’s answer: “I’m fine with that.”

McIlroy to Spieth: “Are you good?”

Spieth: “Yeah, I don’t know where it landed. I’m just saying it crossed land, so where’s the safest place it crossed land.”

McIlroy: “Yeah I would say this is pretty safe.”

Diamond: “Alrighty.”

He and McIlroy then began to size up the next shot.

From 225 yards away, McIlroy came up short of the green with his third shot and ended up walking away with a double bogey. He birdied the par-5 ninth to cap a 7-under 65, which tied him with Xander Schauffele for the early clubhouse lead.

Trying to get other perspectives on the rules issue on No. 7 proved elusive. Spieth, after a 74, declined to speak with the media and ran from the scoring tent into the clubhouse. Hovland, who double-bogeyed his final hole of the day during a 73, also declined to talk with reporters.

Afterward, McIlroy said he was "adamant" that his ball bounced above the hazard line but then began to doubt himself when others expressed a different viewpoint.

"It's so hard, right, because there was no TV evidence," McIlroy said. "I was adamant. But I think, again, [Spieth] 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."

The lengthy delay on No. 7 was McIlroy's second rules discussion of the day, after he also overcooked his drive into the water on the par-4 18th, his ninth of the day.

Once again, there was a conversation about where his ball crossed the penalty line.

"I think this golf course more than any other, it sort of produces those situations a little bit," McIlroy said. "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."