Rory McIlroy will tee it up at this week’s PGA Tour event, the Travelers Championship, as it goes ahead despite three positive Covid-19 tests and five player withdrawals.
Brooks Koepka’s caddie Ricky Elliott, from Portrush, and Graeme McDowell’s bagman Ken Comboy both tested positive for the coronavirus this week, along with player Cameron Champ.
PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan confirmed that five players had chosen to withdraw from the tournament, including Champ. He said that McDowell, Webb Simpson, Koepka as well as his brother Chase had all chosen to pull out of the event ‘in an abundance of caution’.
Commissioner Monahan said that the Tour is ‘excited’ to continue in the third week of its restart despite the positive tests and the withdrawals and said that changes would be made to its coronavirus protocols.
Those include additional testing on arrival at each week’s tournament and introducing ‘physio trailers’ at each tournament to help prevent players travelling to off-site gyms.
He insisted that he did not feel ‘let down’ by the behaviour of players but admitted there had been situations where people involved, including himself, had been ‘lax’ with the protocols and stressed the need to ‘tighten up’.
Monahan was speaking on the same day that the US registered 36,880 new cases, a record highest number since the pandemic began.
The commissioner admitted he was ‘concerned’ by the progress of the virus in the country, but underlined his faith in the Tour’s protocols.
Monahan added his belief that people had to ‘learn to live with the virus’ which ‘isn’t going where’ and said that the Tour felt its ‘great responsibility’ to provide entertainment.
He wouldn’t be drawn on the breaking point of if and when the Tour could be forced to shut down once again.
“I am very comfortable, very pleased, very confident in the health and safety program that we have, even though we've had positive tests,” he said. “In this world, I think that's an expected outcome. We've learned a lot.
“We are continuing to refine. Anybody that's leading a business, whether you're in sport or any other business, any other industry, it's all about trying to live in this world and be able to sustain your return in a world of COVID-19.
“I sincerely feel like we are on the right path in that regard.”
Since its return, the Tour has conducted 2,757 total tests in the opening three weeks of action, including on the developmental Korn Ferry tour, with seven positive tests.
It is just three weeks until spectators are due to return to PGA Tour events, at the Memorial tournament on July 16-19. Monahan insisted the Tour intends to stick by that timeline, but only if it is a ‘healthy and safe environment’ for supporters and all involved.
It had been reported that Koepka’s caddie Elliott had undergone a retest, which returned negative. Monahan refused to discuss the individual case but admitted he ‘wouldn’t be surprised’ if that was the case.
Koepka said that he was withdrawing from the tournament ‘to protect everyone else’ while, on his withdrawal, McDowell confirmed he would be tested before flying home to Florida on his private jet and deciding whether to quarantine from his family.
"I’m just uncomfortable being here,” he said.
“The alarm bells have started to ring now that Kenny has failed this test.
“We’re a close-knit team. We roomed together last week, we spent six hours in a car. He’s carrying the virus so in some way I have to be carrying it too.”
McIlroy is due to tee off his opening round at 12.35pm (BST) tomorrow, playing alongside Phil Mickelson and the new-look big-hitter Bryson DeChambeau.
Open champion Shane Lowry is scheduled to play in the threeball behind, with Paul Casey and Patrick Cantlay.
The European Tour has yet to return and is due to do so on July 22 with the British Masters, beginning with a six-tournament UK swing.