With the first major of the season starting on Thursday, concerns have inevitably escalated for the integrity of the competition after Branden Grace was forced to withdraw with a positive coronavirus test when standing in second place in a PGA Tour event.
There is an obvious possibility of the same happening at the USPGA in San Francisco this week and that is the game’s worst fear.
Grace – who at Birkdale three years ago became the first and so far only player in the history to shoot a 62 in a major – was diagnosed before he teed off in the third round of the Baracuda Championship in Nevada. Grace was stunned.
“I’ve felt great all week, but last night, I was a bit tired and thought it had to do with the altitude, Grace said. “This morning, I notified the PGA Tour about my symptoms before going to the course.
“I wanted to get tested out of respect for my peers and everyone involved with the tournament. While it is unfortunate given my position on the leaderboard, the most important thing is our health.”
Grace has inevitably been forced out of the USPGA field. According to a Tour statement, Grace’s caddie tested negative and those who were identified via contact tracing also came up negative.
Grace, the former world No 10, is a big name in the sport and his infection will cause obvious trepidation throughout the game. He is the eighth player on Tour to test positive but the first since Grayson Murray two weeks ago and confidence had been high.
Lee Westwood, Eddie Pepperell, Padraig Harrington and Francesco Molinari have all withdrawn from the Harding Park field because of Covid-19 concerns, while Merseyside Paul Waring also pulled out because of a bad back.
At the WGC-FedEX St Jude Invitational, Brendon Todd shot a 69 to advance to 12-under and claim a one shot advantage over Korea’s Byeong Hun-Yung, who fired a 66. Rickie Fowler is a shot further back following a 69, while defending champion Brooks Koepka has loomed ominously in the picture on nine-under courtesy of a 68.
Matt Fitzpatrick is the best placed Briton at TPC Southwind in Memphis after a 69 and is not without chances in a tie for sixth on seven-under. But world No 2 Rory McIlroy’s mediocre patch continues. On two-over, following a 73, McIlroy is in a tie for 53rd. This is threatening to be his fifth event without a top 10, his worst spell in three years.
In the LPGA Tour’s first event in five months, England’s Jodi Ewart Shadoff shot a 72 to remain on five-under and still be in the hunt for the Drive On Championship in Toledo, Ohio.