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Worried McIlroy takes wait and see attitude as golf shuts down

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Miami (AFP)

World number one Rory McIlroy and other top golfers on Friday supported the decision to cancel The Players Championship and all US PGA Tour events before the Masters due to the coronavirus outbreak.

US PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan, who first said events would continue without spectators, changed his decision in the wake of shutdowns Thursday by nearly every major US sports group and called off the last three Players rounds and the next three weeks of scheduled tournaments, canceling every tune-up before the year's first major at Augusta National.

"Very disappointed to suspend the PGA season," Monahan said Friday. "We tried to be as thoughtful as possible during this dynamic and challenging time.

"It ultimately became a matter of when, not if, we would need to call it a day."

Asked when tour events might resume, Monahan said, "Give us a little bit of time... We're going to make sure we protect the health and safety of all our constituents as we make that decision."

Four-time major winner McIlroy, last year's Players winner, supported the move and said his coach probably wouldn't come from Ireland next week as planned as he prepares to be idled.

"Spend some time at home and evaluate the situation and see where we go. It's one of these things where we have to wait and see," McIlroy said.

"You're not going to stop playing golf. You're going out there practicing, not knowing what you're practicing for."

Asked about when golf should resume, McIlroy said, "Whenever the powers that be say it's safe to do so," then cited an OK from the US Centers for Disease Control, saying, "That's when I'd say I'd be comfortable to do so."

Asked to contemplate the possibility of playing the Masters with no spectators, McIlroy said: "Just pretty crazy to think that."

On Thursday, McIlroy said of the Masters: "I don't see how they can let spectators in if they do play it at this point."

But the outbreak, which has claimed lives worldwide with uncertainty over how many more might be infected, has made competitions secondary.

"Sport is insignificant compared to what we're dealing with." said Northern Ireland's 2010 US Open champion Graeme McDowell.

"We're talking about a major global problem. At the end of the day, professional sport means nothing in the lands of making the world safe again."

As the NBA, NHL and other major US sports events were called off on Thursday, Monahan joined the list.

"It would be horrible for us to be the only sports league playing and a terribly insensitive look," reigning US Open champion Gary Woodland told The Golf Channel.

McIlroy said on Thursday he feared by playing he might catch coronavirus and pass it along to elderly relatives or volunteers whose lives might then be at risk.

"It's a scary time," McIlroy said. "You have just got to take it day by day and see where this thing goes."

Monahan said it was a concern he heard from other players as well.

"That uncertainty led us not to play," he said. "The fact somebody is asking questions like that is something you have to consider."

Monahan said there was no chance to finish the Players later in the year and golfers who played Thursday would evenly divide a half-purse of $7.5 million.

"With all that's going on around the world at the moment, this is the right decision," England's Justin Rose tweeted. "Safety for players, support staff and you the fans is the number priority for the PGA Tour."

- 'Really scary' -

Golfers collecting items from their lockers on Friday supported the decision in comments to The Golf Channel.

"If we can't be tested to make sure, it makes no sense to keep risking it," Spain's Jon Rahm said.

"It's like straight out of a movie, when the zombies are taking over," US golfer Brendan Steele said. "And it's really, really scary."

"I believe it was the right thing to do and I support the decision," added England's Paul Casey. "I felt (playing Thursday) I should be home with my family and questioned if I was doing the right thing."

Axed were the Valspar Championship, the WGC Match Play Championship, a PGA event in the Dominican Republic and the Texas Open in San Antonio.

Next on the golf schedule for now is the Masters on April 9-12. No major men's golf tournament has gone unplayed since 1945, when only the British Open was contested due to World War II.

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