Top-ranked McIlroy feels safe and sharp in PGA Tour return

WASHINGTON (AFP) – World number one Rory McIlroy said his game is as sharp as possible and he feels in a safe environment as the US PGA Tour returns to competition today.

After three months idled due to the coronavirus pandemic, the four-time major champion from Northern Ireland will tee off without spectators at the Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial in Fort Worth, Texas.

There will be face masks and gloves, social distancing, coronavirus tests and temperature-taking to create and maintain a “bubble” of safety for players.

“It really does feel safe. Everything at the course, everything that has been put in place for us, it has felt very robust, very safe,” McIlroy said.

“There’s sanitiser everywhere you look. I feel safe and I’d say basically everyone else that’s here feels the same thing.”

Rory McIlroy tees off on the sixth hole during practice for the Charles Schwab Challenge golf tournament at the Colonial Country Club in Texas. PHOTO: AP

McIlroy said his game is as good as can be expected after such a long competition layoff.

“The thing I missed the most was the competition,” McIlroy said. “I tried to play with high-calibre players and see where I measured up with them.

“I feel like my game is pretty sharp. I’m as sharp as I can be coming in here… the first couple of days here will be the real test. I’ll learn a lot about myself and my game in those first couple of days.”

With a spotlight on the first event since The Players Championship was halted after one round in March, McIlroy knows how crucial the week will be for golf and the emergence of sport in general from the COVID-19 outbreak.

“This week is very important. Golf will be the centre of the sports world,” he said. “For people to have something to watch on TV where they don’t know the outcome, I think that will be a good thing.”

McIlroy expects a strange atmosphere without fans lining the course, as spectators are not scheduled to attend a PGA event until next month at the Memorial tournament.

“It’ll be a little eerie, you’re not getting claps or feedback from good shots,” McIlroy said. “At the same time, it’s what we have to do. It’s what we’re going to have to live with for the forseeable future.”

McIlroy reiterated, however, that he sees no chance of the Ryder Cup, set to be played in September at Whistling Straits, being contested if spectators cannot attend.

“It’s either going to be played this year with fans or we’ll be kicking it down the road,” McIlroy predicted.

“I’m pretty sure they won’t carry on without spectators. I don’t think that (playing in such an event) would have to be an option that I would consider. I just can’t see it going ahead without fans.”

McIlroy said the rescheduling of events forced by the pandemic showed golf’s global structure could use simplification.

“I don’t know if everything being under one umbrella is the solution, but definitely fewer umbrellas is a way forward,” McIlroy said.