We’re getting used to protracted negotiations in the world of golf, aren’t we? But even those embroiled in the complex, contentious conversations about the future structure of the men’s professional game must have watched the rules rumpus unfold on day one of the Players Championship and thought, “how long is this palaver going to go on for?”

The prolonged episode, involving Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Viktor Hovland, added a decent dollop of intriguing spice to the opening round at Sawgrass.

In his pre-tournament press chinwag with the media, McIlroy expressed his hope that the “train would speed up” on those aforementioned talks among golf’s established tours and Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund.

Yesterday, the Rory Express was almost derailed by a dispute over a penalty drop on the seventh hole – his 16th – which led to the kind of extended, in-depth dialogue that would’ve made the discussions during the Paris Agreement look like a passing chinwag in the pub doorway.

The whole rigmarole ended with McIlroy racking up a double-bogey six but he still finished with a seven-under 65 to share the early clubhouse lead with Olympic champion, Xander Schauffele.

The incident on that seventh, though, was the talk of the steamie and beyond. McIlroy, who won the Players Championship in 2019, hoiked his tee-shot towards the water and it bounced off the bank and plunged into the lake.

The issue was whether his ball had bounced above or below the red hazard line and the subsequent location of his drop.

Both Spieth and Hovland, drawing on everything from the hearsay of spectators to the position of some turtles as a reference point, flung their tuppence worth into the pot as the deliberations rumbled on for nearly 10 minutes. Spieth had also appeared to question an earlier drop by McIlroy on the group’s ninth hole.

A rules official eventually backed McIlroy’s judgement and, despite the Northern Irishman eventually leaking two shots on that seventh, he rallied on his final hole and trundled in a 15-footer for birdie to join Schauffele at the summit. It was a lively start to the 50th staging of the PGA Tour’s flagship event.

“If I feel like I’ve done something wrong, it’ll play on my conscience for the rest of the tournament,” said McIlroy. “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 didn’t try to do anything wrong out there. I tried play by the rules and do the right thing. I feel like I obviously did that with those two drops.

“I was adamant that I saw it bounce above the red line, but then when someone comes in and says: ‘Well, someone thought that it didn’t,’ then it just puts some doubt in your mind. It’s up to you to be comfortable enough with your decision that you did see what you saw. I’m comfortable. I think that’s the most important thing.”

As for Spieth’s interventions? Well, McIlroy played a straight bat of diplomacy. “I think Jordan was just trying to make sure that I was doing the right thing,” added the 34-year-old, who had burst out of the traps with three birdies on his opening three holes.

Schauffele’s neatly assembled, bogey-free card was burnished by four birdies in a row around the turn as he set a robust early target while the young Swedish star, Ludvig Aberg, illuminated his debut in the Players Championship with a brace of eagles within the space of five holes en route to a 67.

New Zealander Ryan Fox’s 69 was one of the more eventful rounds of the day. After McIlroy’s, of course.

Between the 14th and 18th – he started on the 10th – Fox’s run was five, five, three, one, five or bogey, bogey, eagle, eagle, bogey. It’s some old game, eh?

On the home front, Glasgow exile Martin Laird, who was a joint runner-up in the Players Championship back in 2012, continued his good recent form with an opening 70. Laird, with back-to-back top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour coming into this week, birdied two of his last four holes in a spirited round.

Laird’s fellow Scot, Robert MacIntyre, was left cursing a double-bogey on his seventh hole as the Oban lefty signed off with a two-over 74. The 27-year-old reeled off 11 straight pars after that mishap during a frustrating day at the office.