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2024 Players: The 'awkward' Jordan Spieth-Rory McIlroy rules confusion, explained for normal people


Who doesn't love a good rules kerfuffle? And oh boy, we got a tasty one at the 2024 Players Championship between two of the sports most high-profile figures: Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth.

Although it was awkward at times, all involved remained cordial and respectful of each other.

"Jordan was just trying to make sure that I was doing the right thing," McIlroy said after his round.

You can read my colleague Chris Powers' full story from TPC Sawgrass here, and Joel Beall's thoughtful analysis here.

But assuming you're not one of those golf fans who are deep in the weeds of which angle whose ball flew over which turtles, here's a very basic breakdown to get you started.

On the seventh hole, McIlroy's 16th of the day (because he teed off on the 10th hole on Thursday), the World No. 2 hooked a drive left into the water. It was his second water ball left-miss all day, because of a swing issue Rory's working through.


Due to the placement of the water over there, it's one of the few blind spots on the course—meaning there were no TV cameras to see exactly where the ball entered the hazard, but we do know that the ball bounced.


Where did the ball bounce? That's an important question, because under the rules of golf, golfers have to drop their ball where their ball entered the hazard.

So, did the ball land on the grass just outside the hazard line, then bounce into the hazard and roll into the water? If so, he'd get to drop farther up the hole, closer to the green.

Or, did Rory's bounce on the grass inside the hazard line, then roll into the water? If so, Rory would've had to drop closer to the tee he originally hit from.

Rory used his best judgement, said he "was pretty comfortable I say it [bounce] above the red line," and dropped it in a place where he thought was a "conservative" and "safe" spot.


Then, after he dropped, Rory's playing partner Viktor Hovland said: "We don't know for sure it crossed the line" in the spot Rory dropped. It brought things to a halt that would span almost 10 minutes.


Shortly after, the pair's other playing partner, Jordan Spieth, came over and said nearby spectators thought they were very confident the ball landed inside the hazard.


They all went back and forth with the rules official until, eventually, everyone agreed that Rory should drop his ball in the "safest possible spot," which Rory said he was confident was where he was. He used air quotes at one point around the word "safest", which was a fun little aside and did sort of make sens in this context..


Rules situations like this are unique in golf, because there's no referee figure to have the final say.

Ultimately, it comes down to the player to be honest, and make the call they think is right. Spieth made clear it was Rory's call, but Spieth also has an obligation to make sure his playing partners are acting appropriately, too. In this case, Spieth said he just wanted to make sure he didn't take a bad drop that he'd be penalized for later.

All of which is to say: Yes, it's a slightly strange process. One quite unique to golf, but one that in its own strange way, works.