Rory McIlroy: 'Unacceptable' slow play has become 'an epidemic'

James Corrigan
The Telegraph
Rory McIlroy says punishments need to be enforced - David Cannon Collection
Rory McIlroy says punishments need to be enforced - David Cannon Collection

Rory McIlroy has taken aim at the PGA Tour, accusing it of allowing the curse of slow play to become “an epidemic”. The Irishman wants action to be taken, yet has no faith in golf’s disciplinarians enforcing the rules.

With trademark honesty, McIlroy said what so many of his colleagues are thinking when asked about the glacial pace at the Players Championship at Sawgrass.

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It took well north of five hours for him to complete his second-round 65, but the groupings were actually around quicker than on Thursday, when play was suspended due to darkness, with India’s Anirban Lahiri still to finish his round. It all left McIlroy bemused and angry.

“The fact that someone didn’t finish yesterday, just being through daylight savings and the tee-times and someone had to come out today because there wasn’t enough light to finish, I mean, that’s unacceptable,” McIlroy said.

“This is five hours and 40 minutes after our tee-time. I get that it can take five hours to play out there, but it shouldn’t take any over that. They don’t do anything about it. It’s become somewhat of an epidemic on Tour.

“Honestly, I think they should just be a little tougher and start penalising shots earlier and that would be an easy way to fix it.”

This is the second week running in which McIlroy has expressed his frustrations. Last Saturday, when playing with another Englishman in Matt Fitzpatrick at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, McIlroy’s playing partner commented: “It’s slow, today.” McIlroy replied: “Slow every day. Just horrendous. Absolute disgrace.”

McIlroy is far from being the only one who craves for the regulations to be enforced. The problem is the PGA Tour’s policy is ridiculously vague. A pro is allowed 40 seconds to play a shot, but is only put on the clock once the group is “out of position”. They would then be penalised if exceeding the time limit for a second time, a fact McIlroy clearly finds too lenient. In the last 24 years, only two players have been hit with a shot penalty and that has everything to do with the Tour’s indifference.

<span>McIlroy has grown frustrated at the pace some players play at</span> <span>Credit: getty images </span>
McIlroy has grown frustrated at the pace some players play at Credit: getty images

It has become a huge talking point this year. At last month’s LA Open, the final group fell more than a hole behind. At the very least, the referees should have warned the threeball – which included eventual champion JB Holmes – to quicken up, but they were permitted to continue as they liked.

Holmes is one of the Tour’s infamous “snails”. On the final hole in last year’s final round of the Farmers Insurance Open, the American took more than four minutes to hit a shot. Again, he was not even timed. “It’s never going to change,” Adam Scott, the former world No 1, said. “Just get over it. Until television and sponsors say ‘no more money’, slow play ain’t going to change.”

Billy Horschel has more faith in the Tour officials – but not a great deal more. “We have a policy and we have rules that state what we should do,” the American said. “It’s an implementation problem because we don’t fully implement all the way. This is nothing against [the Tour], but you look at their comments and they don’t feel we have a pace of play issue.

“The issue comes down to guys not being ready when it’s their turn. That’s why we play slow. Until we punish players for not being ready to play we’re never going to fix the issue.”

If only the scourge started and stopped on Tour. Horschel sees its affects through the sport. 

“The problem is leaking down to the amateur and college game,” he said. “When I play in pro-ams it’s amazing to see how long some of these players take. We are such big influencers in the game that whatever we do people are going to copy us.”

McIlroy and Fleetwood held a three-shot overnight lead on 12-under, with a group in third including Ian Poulter. Six further back was Tiger Woods – but he could have been at least three shots closer according to the Golf Channel. On Friday, Woods hits two balls into the water on the island-green 17th on his way to a quadruple-bogey seven. After his tee-shot on the notorious 137-yader rolled over the putting surface and into the lake, Woods walked across to the drop-zone to play his next (with which he again found the water).

However, analysts David Duval, Brandel Chamblee and Frank Nobilo believe he was entitled to take a penalty drop on the walkway, near to where his first ball crossed the hazard line. Woods would have been presented with a 30-foot putt or chip for par and it is difficult to envisage him taking any more than a bogey four.

“I don’t think the players have considered this and I actually reached out to Tiger and asked him if he thought about dropping in this walkway and he told me he didn’t realise it was an option,” Duval said.

“Later in the day, Haotong Li did the same thing and, like Tiger, went to the drop area. 

“I think the players are so rigid with thinking this is an island green and if you don’t hit it on the green, you have to go to the drop zone or re-tee it. But now they should know that this is a really good option.”

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