Different. That’s how Marc Leishman and Aaron Baddeley both described the prospect of playing the remaining rounds of THE PLAYERS Championship with no fans in attendance following the PGA TOUR’s response to the growing coronavirus outbreak.
Australia’s leading female players Minjee Lee, Hannah Green, Katherine Kirk, Su Oh and Sarah Kemp have had the start to their seasons delayed after the LPGA Tour announced the postponement of the opening three events, including the ANA Inspiration, the first major championship of the year.
The operational plan as outlined by PGA TOUR commissioner Jay Monahan on Thursday in Florida will see the Valspar Championship, World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play and Valero Texas Open proceed as scheduled but without fans while the Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship due to be played in the Dominican Republic has been postponed.
“At this point in time, PGA TOUR events – across all Tours – will currently proceed as scheduled, but will do so without fans,” Monahan said.
“This policy starts at THE PLAYERS Championship tomorrow (Friday) and continues through the Valero Texas Open. It’s important to note, that could change, but for the time being, this decision allows the PGA TOUR, our fans and constituents to plan, prepare and respond as events develop.
“Further, the recently announced travel advisories and potential logistical issues associated with players and staff traveling internationally limit our ability to successfully stage the Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship.
“Therefore, we are going to postpone that event and will provide details in the coming weeks on a reschedule as this situation develops.”
Marc Leishman played in the group behind Tiger Woods when the third round of the AT&T National at Congressional was played without spectators due to on-course storm damage and conceded that it provides a very different competitive atmosphere.
“A few years ago in Washington DC I played a group in front of Tiger, with no one out there, there was just the grounds staff and such, so it’s different,” said Leishman, the best-placed Aussie after an opening round of 5-under 67.
“We’re going to have to work on getting the competitive juices flowing, even though there’s no crowds.
“I don’t really play much golf on my weeks off, so I don’t generally play with no people around, even when I play at home.
“There’s a lot of people out watching now so it will be interesting and I’ll need to work on getting into it.
“I’m not a doctor, obviously, I don’t really know the ins and outs of it, but I think you certainly have to err on the side of caution and protect people.”
Four shots behind Leishman in a tie for 63rd, two-time Australian Open champion Aaron Baddeley couldn’t recall ever playing a tournament without galleries in attendance.
“I never have,” said Aaron Baddeley, who had four birdies on his back nine to sign for a 1-under 71.
“It’s going to be different.”
Beginning his round on the back nine, Leishman made the turn in 4-under with birdies at the 10th, 12th, 14th and 16th holes, dropping a shot at the par-4 fifth when he failed to get up and down from the rough right of the green.
Pars followed at six, seven and eight before Leishman shot up into a tie for fifth through 18 holes when his second shot from 282 yards at the par-5 ninth came to rest 21 feet from the cup and he subsequently drained the putt for eagle.
Adam Scott and Matt Jones are both tied for 37th after opening their championships with rounds of 2-under par 70 followed by Baddeley at 1-under, Kiwi Danny Lee (72), Cameron Smith (73) and Jason Day (76).
World No.1 Rory McIlroy bounced back late with three straight birdies to get back to even par and believes if anyone associated with the tour tests positive for the coronavirus that they will have no choice but to suspend tournaments indefinitely, raising the prospect of The Masters being played behind closed doors.
“I don’t see how they can let spectators in if they do play it at this point,” McIlroy said of The Masters, which at this point would be the first event following the current mandated policy.
“We need to shut it down then (if a player or caddie contracts the virus).
“More than anything else, everyone needs to get tested.
“For us to keep playing on TOUR, all the TOUR players and people that are involved need to get tested and make sure that no one’s got it.
“Obviously everyone knows you can have it and not have symptoms and pass it on to someone that’s more susceptible to getting very ill from it.”