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Autumn Masters in Augusta’s sights after coronavirus forces postponement | Sport

Augusta National hopes it can break with tradition and host the Masters in autumn, after the first major of the year became another high-profile sporting victim of the coronavirus outbreak.

Fred Ridley, Augusta’s chairman, announced on Friday that the Masters had been postponed and expressed a wish to hold the tournament over new dates. That Tiger Woods is due to defend his title renders the next, and 84th, Masters highly significant.

Augusta came under pressure after the PGA Tour cancelled its marquee event, the Players Championship, with just one round played. The Valspar Championship, World Golf Championship Match Play and Texas Open were also removed from the schedule. There were tentative noises that the Masters, which had been set to start on 9 April, could be played without spectators but the outcome was instead firmer.

“Unfortunately, the ever-increasing risks associated with the widespread coronavirus Covid-19 have led us to a decision that undoubtedly will be disappointing to many, although I am confident is appropriate under these unique circumstances,” said Ridley. “Considering the latest information and expert analysis, we have decided at this time to postpone the Masters Tournament, the Augusta National Women’s Amateur and the Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals.

“Ultimately, the health and well-being of everyone associated with these events and the citizens of the Augusta community led us to this decision. We hope this postponement puts us in the best position to safely host the Masters Tournament and our amateur events at some later date.”

The Masters has been staged in April in all but two years. In 1934 – at the inaugural tournament – and 1939 it was played in March. There was no Masters between 1943 and 1945, with the course hosting cattle to assist with the US war effort.

September or October have initially been mooted as potential slots for 2020 but the crowded golf calendar, including a Ryder Cup this year, render any such switch highly complicated. The summer climate in Georgia rules that period out. As things stand the other three majors – the US PGA Championship, US Open and Open Championship – are scheduled to go ahead as planned but there is obvious and considerable doubt attached to them.

“I’m not surprised, not surprised at all,” said Paul Casey, the world No 24 of Augusta’s actions. “This is now a pandemic. The ladies and gentlemen that run that great event have very smart minds and are taking the right precautions. I think we as a collective in the golf community felt that we were taking the necessary precautions and it was important to continue. But obviously it got to a tipping point and we realised that that’s not the right thing to be doing.”

Justin Thomas, a former US PGA winner, added: “I felt like there was no chance we were going to play the Masters. It’s so soon.”

The Tour’s decision to suspend standard events was also widely welcomed by players. Jay Monahan, the PGA Tour’s commissioner, initially announced a plan to complete the closing 54 holes of the Players Championship and three subsequent tournaments behind closed doors. The model swiftly changed to total lockdown.

“Of course it’s the right decision,” said the world No 1, Rory McIlroy. “If in a few weeks’ time this dies down and everything is OK, it’s still the right decision.

“I’ve got no golf to play coming up. I was supposed to have my coach, Michael Bannon, fly out next week and we were going to spend some time together, and that’s probably not going to happen, him coming from Ireland. I’ll probably just spend some time at home, evaluate the situation, and see where we go.”

As Monahan addressed the media on Friday morning, the toll this scenario had taken on him was visible. “Ultimately there were some players that were concerned [about continuing with the Players],” Monahan said. “That’s something that we took into consideration and took very seriously.

“As we step back and we think about when we’re going to play, we need to do all the things that led us to this decision. We need to continue to understand what’s happening on the ground in the markets where we would be returning to play, continue to work with our partners in those markets, continue to understand what’s happening with the CDC and the World Health Organisation, and then ultimately that will guide our decision. We’re going to make sure that we protect the safety and wellbeing of all of our constituents as we make that decision.”

Monahan confirmed 50% of the Players prize fund, $7.5m, will be paid out equally to competitors. Eighteen holes at Sawgrass on Thursday, therefore, earned these individuals around $52,000 each.

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