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Rory McIlroy at the Players Championship. Alamy Stock Photo
Good start

Rory McIlroy dismisses debate over his penalty drop to share lead at The Players

Séamus Power and Shane Lowry are also in action in Florida.

RORY MCILROY OPENED with a stunning 65 to climb to the top of the leaderboard alongside Xander Schauffele and reigning US Open champion Wyndham Clark in the opening round of the Players Championship in TPC Sawgrass.

McIlroy started on the back nine and got off to a brilliant start with three birdies in-a-row before adding three more between the 14th and 17th holes. He dropped a shot on the 18th after finding water but recovered with three more birdies on the turn at the second, fourth and sixth holes.

PGA TOUR / YouTube

He hit the water again on the seventh, where there was an almost eight-minute discussion between McIlroy and the other players in his group, Jordan Spieth and Viktor Hovland, about where McIlroy’s ball entered the water before play resumed.

McIlroy went on to make double-bogey before finishing the day with a par on the eighth and a birdie on the ninth.

“I think Jordan [Spieth] was just trying to make sure that I was doing the right thing,” McIlroy told reporters after the round.

“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, 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.”

PGA TOUR / YouTube

Hovland and Spieth chose not to speak to the media after rounds of 73 and 74 respectively, but McIlroy — who faced a similar drop situation on the 18th — was asked if everyone in the group had been comfortable with the outcome.

“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.

“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.”

Schauffele fired a bogey-free, seven-under-par 65 to stand level with McIlroy and Clark, who birdied three of the last four holes at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.

“It’s always nice to go bogey-free round at Sawgrass,” Schauffele said after his lowest-ever round at the famed course. “Just got a couple good breaks, made a couple of nice putts and all in all a good start.”

The 30-year-old American, who hasn’t won since the 2022 Scottish Open, found nine of 14 fairways in his first bogey-free round of 15 at the Players.

“The bogeys, or the scares of a bogey, come when you miss the fairways,” Schauffele said. “The rough is pretty thick. Shockingly thick in some cases. You’ve just got to keep it on the short grass.”

Fifth-ranked Clark, who won last month at Pebble Beach, birdied four of the first seven holes despite his lone bogey at the fourth then closed strong to share the lead with birdie putts of 20 feet at 15, three feet at the par-5 16th and 14 feet at the famed par-3 17th island hole.

“It wasn’t the best irons I’ve ever hit but I had a lot of control over the ball. I was putting the ball in the spots you needed to be and I just plodded my way around the course,” Clark said.

“Overall really solid day and something to build on.”

There were nine golfers still on the course when play was suspended for darkness, none with more than three holes to finish. American Jimmy Stanger was best at 5-under and putting for par on his penultimate hole.

New Zealand’s Ryan Fox had the first back-to-back eagles in Players history — an eagle at 16 and an ace at 17 on the way to a 69.

“It was a nice gap wedge,” Fox said of his ace. “I was pretty chuffed to look up and see it going down the flag. A little bit of luck for it to come down the slope and go back in, but I’m certainly not complaining. It’s such an iconic hole.”

England’s Matthew Fitzpatrick, the 2022 US Open champion, and Canadian Nick Taylor shared third on 66 with top-ranked defending champion Scottie Scheffler another shot adrift.

Meanwhile, Shane Lowry finished the day tied for 56th on one under par, while fellow Irish star Seamus Power was a further shot adrift, opening with a 72 to leave him tied for 76th.

– Additional reporting by Press Association and AFP

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Written by Sinead Farrell and posted on

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