Rory McIlroy Addresses Penalty Drop Controversy During First Round At Players Championship

Rory McIlroy was involved in a long discussion with his playing partners over a penalty drop during his first round

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
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Rory McIlroy sought to downplay any controversy after he was involved in a lengthy debate with playing partners Jordan Spieth and Viktor Hovland over a penalty drop during his first round at the Players Championship.

The Northern Irishman enjoyed a superb start to the tournament, firing a seven-under-par 65 to take the early clubhouse lead alongside Xander Schauffele

His round, however, was not without its drama when McIlroy, who started on the 10th, found the water twice on the 18th and 7th hole. On both occasions, there was debate as to whether his ball had bounced inside the boundary line before dropping into the hazard.

The penalty drop on the 7th, in particular, was the subject of a lengthy debate between the three players, with Spieth suggesting TV workers had seen it go straight in the water.

McIlroy, however, was adamant he had seen his ball bounce before going in, and with no TV replays to guide the players, he eventually took his drop from the left rough. 

Speaking after the round, the four-time Major champion looked to dispel any notion of controversy surrounding the incident. 

“I think Jordan [Spieth] was just trying to make sure that I was doing the right thing,” the 34-year-old said. “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.

“If anything I was being conservative with it. I think at the end of the day we’re all trying to protect ourselves, and 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 blind spot [with the lack of television cameras]. I think the best view was from the tee, which was the view that we had.”

Neither Spieth nor Hovland spoke to the media after the round to address the incident but McIlroy insisted that he remained confident in his version of events and that he was not looking to bend the rules.

"I was comfortable, and I was just making sure that Jordan and Viktor were comfortable, too," he added. “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.”

Ben Fleming

Ben joined Golf Monthly having completed his NCTJ in multimedia sports journalism at News Associates, London. He is now a freelance journalist who also works for The Independent, Metro, UEFA and Stats Perform.