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McIlroy playing catch up at Heritage as PGA Tour rocked by first positive Covid-19 case

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Nick Watney has tested positive for coronavirus (Peter Byrne/PA)

Nick Watney has tested positive for coronavirus (Peter Byrne/PA)

Nick Watney

Nick Watney

Nick Watney has tested positive for coronavirus (Peter Byrne/PA)

Rory McIlroy will start seven shots back going into the weekend at the RBC Heritage at Harbour Town Golf Links in South Carolina.

However, the action at the tournament was overshadowed by the Tour’s first positive coronavirus case after America’s Nick Watney was confirmed to have contracted the virus.

The 39-year-old, who shot a three-over 74 on Thursday, withdrew from the event prior to his second round after displaying symptoms consistent with Covid-19 and was tested on Friday morning, returning a positive result.

Watney, who tested negative for the coronavirus when he arrived at Hilton Head on Wednesday, has been confirmed to be self-isolating, with the PGA Tour now set to implement a response plan to the positive case.

The Tour have been strict with Covid-19 testing since its return last week, testing all players, caddies, staff and volunteers on their arrival at the course, with 369 individuals tested prior to the start of this week’s event.

How severely this will affect the tournament is yet to be seen, however what is certain is that Graeme McDowell and Shane Lowry won’t be around for the weekend anyway after the Irish pair missed the midway cut.

McDowell’s five-under-par 66 and Lowry’s four-under 67 saw them both finish at one under par for the first two rounds, two shots adrift of the cut.

The lead is held by 2012 US Open champion Webb Simpson, who hit back-to-back six-under-par 65s to hold a one-shot advantage over the big-hitting Bryson DeChambeau and Canadian Corey Conners.

World No.1 McIlroy is in a group at five-under-par after battling back from a poor opening round of one-over 72 to make it into the weekend with a bogey-free six-under-par 65 on Friday.

The Holywood ace fired three birdies on each nine to safely make the cut and will turn his focus to chasing down Simpson from down the field.

G-Mac, who limped to a four-over 75 in his first round at Harbour Town, once again started slowly in his second round, carding an opening bogey at the first, but rallied to register three birdies before the turn.

Despite his resurgence, however, 2013 Heritage champion McDowell’s race was run when a bogey at the par-four 12th saw him lose further ground, but the World No.49 did rack up four birdies on his way back to the clubhouse, including finishing with back-to-back birdies at the 17th and 18th.

Meanwhile, Open champion Lowry shot off to a spectacular start, birdieing four of his first seven holes to get within touching distance of the cut, however he could only par his way in for a bogey-free 67 that wasn’t enough to get him into the weekend.

At the top of the leaderboard, World No.9 Simpson had a hot day with the putter, rolling in a combined 186ft of putts on his way to setting the pace at 12 under, one stroke ahead of DeChambeau and Conners who are both on 11 under.

The latter’s second round was particularly impressive, his eight-under 63 the best of the day alongside Jhonattan Vegas and Tyler Duncan, with Ryan Palmer a further shot behind in fourth at 10 under par.

Belfast Telegraph