Reigning U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy splashed a shot into the water on the final hole of the Irish Open on Thursday morning, then waded into a controversy of a different sort entirely.
After leading for much of the back nine, McIlroy hit a risky shot from a fairway bunker on the 18th on Thursday that flew into a greenside pond, leading to a double-bogey and a 71 that left him four shots off the early lead.
Jay Townsend, a longtime commentator for the BBC who is also working this week on the European Tour Productions broadcast of the event airing on the Golf Channel in the States, was unsparing in his description of McIlroy’s sloppy round.
“McIlroy's course management was shocking,” Townsend, a former tour professional, wrote on his Twitter account.
He wasn’t through.
“Some of the worst course management I have ever seen, beyond under-10 boys' golf competition," Townsend continued.
McIlroy, 22, quickly thumbed out a feisty response that many believed crossed the line.
McIlroy quickly replied: "Shut up ... you're a commentator and a failed golfer, your opinion means nothing!"
It means something to the broadcast networks that employ him, and Townsend has been plying his trade for years, gaining a great deal of respect from his peers. Twitter followers immediately began weighing in with suggestions that McIlroy’s caddie, J.P. Fitzgerald, didn’t have enough spine to talk his man out of risky decisions.
Townsend then Tweeted that McIlroy, “should hire Stevie Williams, as I thought J.P. allowed some SHOCKING course management today.”
Later, when McIlroy called him out, Townsend wrote, “Sorry, but I stand by my comments.”
McIlroy followed with, “Well, I stand by my caddie.”
Townsend, assigned to follow McIlroy's threesome all morning, first questioned McIlroy's decision to hit a driver off the 18th tee during the Golf Channel's tape-delayed broadcast in the States. McIlroy, ranked No. 4 in the world, shoved the drive into a fairway bunker as others laid back off the tee.
To which another commentator in the Golf Channel feed, Denis Hutchinson, replied, "You don't want to tame him down too much," as he applauded McIlroy's youthful spontaneity.
That notion didn't sit well with Townsend.
Just after McIlroy yanked his approach shot and the ball was still in the air, headed toward a certain watery grave, Townsend said, "There you go, that's why you don't hit it in the bunker -- watch this. You guys talked about 'refreshing,' the way he plays. He plays silly. Several times already today."
A Golf Channel spokesman had no comment on Townsend's remarks, verbal or written.