Rory McIlroy leads The Players Championship despite going into drink twice as Jason Day best of the Aussies

Staff Writers
The Nightly
5 Min Read
Rory McIlroy leads The Players Championship after getting in a dispute over a ball drop when his shot went in the drink.
Rory McIlroy leads The Players Championship after getting in a dispute over a ball drop when his shot went in the drink. Credit: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Rory McIlroy began The Players Championship with a 65 on his scorecard, two tee shots that went into the water and one lengthy dispute about where to take a penalty drop on Thursday.

Jason Day was the best of the Australian hopefuls finishing at five under, while Adam Scott (-2) and Min Woo Lee (+1) were further back in the pack.

New Zealander Ryan Fox stole the show on the 17th with a hole-in-one and became the first golfer at the Players to have back-to-back eagles with an eagle on the 16th. He finished at three under.

Sign up to The Nightly's newsletters.

Get the first look at the digital newspaper, curated daily stories and breaking headlines delivered to your inbox.

Email Us
By continuing you agree to our Terms and Privacy Policy.

Day said his first round was “great”.

“Drove it nice. I think that’s probably one of the most crucial things is to drive it well here. Even though it’s not like overly long, getting it in the fairway is important.It was nice to be able to capitalise on the par-5s today, keep the 5s off the scorecard and birdie those,” the 2016 Players winner said.

“It’s one of those golf courses where previously, before I won the event, I didn’t have a lot of great results.

“Then I won the event, and since then I’ve had some decent finishes.”

Fox was threw his arms up in triumph when the crowd went wild after the hole-in-one.

“I mean, it’s such an iconic hole, and it’s an intimidating shot. I don’t care who you are. You get up there, most of the crowd probably either wants you to make a 1 or hit it in the water, so I’m glad to be on the right side of it in that respect,” Fox said.

McIlroy ended the day with 10 birdies for his lowest start ever at the TPC Sawgrass, leaving him tied with Xander Schauffele among early starters at seven under par. He would love to have back the tee shots on the 18th and the seventh holes, both of which found water and slowed his momentum on an otherwise superb display of golf.

It was the drop on No. 7 that caused so much conversation with Jordan Spieth and Viktor Hovland, and some confusion on where he should drop.

“I think Jordan 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, right? Because there was no TV evidence. I was adamant. But I think, again, he was just trying to make sure that I was going to do the right thing.”

McIlroy was 8 under for the day playing the par-4 seventh -- his 16th hole of the round -- when he pulled his tee shot. The land slopes toward a large pond, meaning the only gallery is on the opposite side of the fairway. Television replays saw the ball bounce, but not where.

The question became was it above or below the red hazard line. Had it landed above, McIlroy would take a one-shot penalty and drop it near were it crossed the line into the water. But if it were below the line -- closer to the water -- he would have had to take his penalty and drop back by the tee box on the 452-yard hole.

McIlroy had already taken his drop when his playing partners had questions. Spieth was heard to say, “We don’t know for sure that it crossed the line.”

“I’m pretty comfortable I saw it above the red line,” McIlroy said.

At one point it appeared to get testy between Spieth, McIlroy and caddie Harry Diamond.

“Everyone that I’m hearing had eyes on it is ... saying they were 100% certain it landed below the line,” Spieth said.

“Who’s everybody, Jordan? Diamond said.

“Who are you talking about?” McIlroy added.

Spieth said all that mattered was what McIlroy thought.

A rules official arrived but was of little use without having seen the shots, and with the camera angle unable to capture exactly where the ball landed.

“I think my ball bounced above the red line, but it’s not definitive,” McIlroy told the official. “I’m pretty comfortable it did. We’re trying to check with TV and they can’t say.”

This went on so long that it took some 30 minutes to complete the hole. McIlroy said he was trying to take the drop in the most conservative spot. Eventually, he came up short of the green with his third shot, ran it 10 feet by the hole and missed the putt to take double bogey.

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, FLORIDA - MARCH 14: Jason Day of Australia plays his shot from the ninth tee 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 Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
Jason Day finished his first round at five under. Credit: Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Hovland, who was involved in a similar tense dispute involving Daniel Berger at The Players two years ago, declined comment and Spieth bolted into the clubhouse after the round.

“I think at the end of the day we’re all trying to protect ourselves, protect the field, as well,” McIlroy said after his round. “I wouldn’t say it (the debate with Spieth) was needless. I think he was just trying to make sure that what happened was the right thing.”

Adding to the attention was their place outside the ropes. McIlroy resigned from the PGA Tour policy board in November, and Spieth was chosen to finish his term as the tour was trying to negotiate investment deals with private equity and Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund.

McIlroy and Spieth also were at odds last month at Pebble Beach on whether the PGA Tour needed a deal with the Public Investment Fund.

They also disagree on whether LIV Golf players should be punished if they ever came back to the PGA Tour. McIlroy doesn’t think they should.

There also was an inquiry into McIlroy’s tee shot on the 18th. He dropped at the start of the fairway, not by the tee box, and managed to hit 3-wood to the front of the green and escape with a bogey.

“Again, adamant it crossed (land), 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,” 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,” he said. “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.”

Lost in all this drama was a 65. It was a remarkable round considering his two tee shots.

“It would be nice to shoot 62 and not have two in the water, I guess,” McIlroy said.

Latest Edition

The front page of The Nightly for 15-04-2024

Latest Edition

Edition Edition 15 April 202415 April 2024

Justice Lee finds Lehrmann ‘hell-bent on having sex’ with Higgins and ‘didn’t care if she knew what was going on’