'Strange' times find Lowry in Ohio, unable to defend Open crown


Los Angeles (AFP)

Shane Lowry will have to wait to hear himself announced to fans as the defending Open champion, finding himself not at Royal St. George's this week but in Dublin, Ohio.

"I wouldn't say it's bittersweet, but it is strange," Lowry said Wednesday as he prepared to tee it up on the US PGA Tour's Memorial Tournament at Muirfield, Village.

The Open Championship originally scheduled for this week was cancelled in April amid the coronavirus pandemic, the Memorial taking the slot when the US PGA Tour resumed with a revamped schedule after a three-month break.

The cancellation marked the first time since 1945 that the Open Championship's Claret Jug won't be awarded.

"I miss being announced on the first tee as defending champion, but I'm sure I'll get that next year," Lowry added. "So everything that I miss or that I won't get to do this week, I'm sure I'll get to do next year."

While Lowry will not be gunning for a major title repeat this week, he will be among a stellar field that includes 15-time major champion Tiger Woods -- playing his first event since February.

"I don't really dwell on things too much that happen, so it is what it is right now, and we kind of have to deal with the cards we're given," Lowry said. "We're certainly not in control of what's happening in the world at the minute.

"Obviously I'd love to be at St George's this week defending.

"I'd love if we were playing in front of 40,000 or 50,000 people this week. I'd love, like everybody in the world, if things were back to normal, but they're not, and we kind of have to get on with that."

Lowry finished tied for 39th at the Workday Charity Open last week, which was also staged at Muirfield Village.

- a big week -

He had 20 birdies and an eagle and said the unusual chance to compete on the same course in back to back weeks had advantages.

"You stay nice and fresh coming into this week," he said. "This is obviously a bigger week. This is a big week, one of the most prestigious events on Tour."

While it had once been hoped the Memorial would be able to welcome fans to the course, surging coronavirus case numbers in the United States has seen the tour confirm that no spectators will be allowed for the remainder of the 2019-2020 season -- which concludes with the Tour championship September 4-7 in Atlanta, Georgia.

Nor will the Safeway Open, which will officially kick off the 2020-21 season September 10-13 in Napa, California.

Tournament officials confirmed on Wednesday admitting fans are "not a possibility in the current health climate."

But PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said on Wednesday there could be supporters at tournaments before the year is out -- possibly at the US Open at Winged Foot in New York on September 17-20.

"I know that the (US Golf Association) continues to work with the state of New York and is making plans to return fans," Monahan said. "If I had to guess, that would be the first week that we would do so."

He said the tour is also continually assessing whether its tournaments later in the year could be staged with spectators at full or partial capacity, saying that would be "largely dependent on what we hear from the communities where we play."