A week unlike any other in PGA Tour history came to an end with a rush to the finish on Sunday, a 2-man playoff, Daniel Berger wearing the winner’s plaid jacket, and just as importantly, a big sigh of relief.
After a 13-week break due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the PGA Tour resumed action with the Charles Schwab Challenge at revered Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas. Its reward after more than 90 intense days of discussion that produced safety protocols and a detailed plan to produce a “bubble” of protection aimed to reduce the risk of the coronavirus was a stacked leaderboard and a Sunday stampede unfortunately played out in front of no spectators.
But players made the noise, and eight held at least a share of the lead during the final round before Berger and Collin Morikawa survived the heated battle on a sunlit day and headed to extra holes. Only one hole was needed as Berger parred the first hole and won the championship hardware when Morikawa missed a three-footer to force a second playoff hole.
Everyone who showed up in Texas, however, should take a victory lap.
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Not a single player or caddie tested positive for the coronavirus. All quickly adapted to having their temperature taken daily and answering a questionnaire every day. All were conscious of adhering to social distancing protocols at Colonial and limiting their off-course activity.
Playing without spectators on the grounds, however, was an eerie feeling some said, surreal at times, others added. At times it was too quiet. But playing competitively, in front of a large viewing audience, was welcomed.
“It’s great that the bubble stayed a bubble, and now we’ve got to travel with it,” said Jordan Spieth, who tied for 10th.
Yes, the Tour heads to South Carolina for next week’s RBC Heritage. PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said the Tour will build on the experience in Texas and make adjustments if need be. As he said, a sustained return is the goal.
“But this is a phenomenal start to our return. There’s no question about it,” Monahan said. “A lot of people that deserve a lot of credit for that, our players certainly at the top of that list for all of their involvement in the weeks leading into this, and the way that they’ve come back and adapted to these new protocols.
“To not have had any issues, and for players to adapt to that system so well, and for us as a collective to be focused on what’s actually happening inside the field of play, watching competition, I think it’s gone about as well as we could have hoped for. I’m proud of our team for that.”
Heavyweights were in contention
The tournament lured the top 5 players in the world – and they will all show up next week at the RBC Heritage – and a major championship feel took hold early in the week. And it never left, as major winners Justin Rose, Gary Woodland, Justin Thomas, Spieth, Bubba Watson, Patrick Reed and World No. 1 Rory McIlroy were in contention.
“Obviously the quality of golf has been incredible. The pedigree on the leaderboard has been unbelievable,” said Rose, who won at Colonial in 2018 and finished in a tie for third on Sunday. “I think we’re all dealing with the atmosphere, but I’ve loved the competition. Down the stretch I was still feeling the butterflies and I was still very aware of what it means to win on the PGA Tour and all the FedExCup points and World Ranking points.
“Was definitely grateful to be out here playing, and hopefully putting on a good show for everybody at home and people are enjoying watching golf again.”
About the fans
But the players can’t wait until fans are back on the grounds. The first tournament that may see spectators is The Memorial in mid-July.
“I’ll call myself an athlete, we know we’re playing for fans on TV, but man, it’s just the roars, the electricity,” we miss, said Watson, who tied for seventh. “Even if you’re playing terrible, to hear other roars, it gets you excited, so that’s what we miss.
“It makes it weird, because even when I made a couple putts, you just don’t even wave, you don’t even high-five. It’s just a weird feeling, which we all love trying to challenge ourselves under pressure in front of the fans, and not having that makes it a little weird. But it was a great week, I believe, especially the first week back.”
Added Jim Furyk, who tied for 49th.
“Overall, I think for the first week, I think we did a pretty good job,” he said. “I think the Tour went through a lot of painstaking conversations and a lot of hours spent on everyone’s safety, whether that’s us, that’s the press, that’s the volunteers, tournament staff, PGA Tour staff. I think they did a good job as far as trying to make sure we were as safe as possible.
“Hopefully we show up next week and we have the same results and zero guys test positive and move forward and have the same week at RBC Heritage.”
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