New Zealand Open cancelled over coronavirus uncertainty

Organisers of next year’s New Zealand Open have cancelled the event because of uncertainty over the coronavirus pandemic.

The tournament was scheduled to be held on two courses in the South Island town of Queenstown in February.

“We are extremely disappointed to have had to come to this decision,” organising committee chairman John Hart said in a statement on Thursday.

  • The Masters: Who is in the field?
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“But the effects of the pandemic, borders being closed, and the financial risk associated with a potential later cancellation due to any further Covid-19 outbreaks means we have no other alternative other than to cancel this event now.”

Hart said they had expected up to 300 people from overseas to attend the tournament.

New Zealand has closed its borders to anyone but returning citizens or permanent residents and while overseas visitors can apply for an exemption, they must meet stringent conditions and are rarely granted.

All arrivals must also still undergo 14-days isolation with short-term visitors charged for their stay in government-run facilities.

The cancellation of the New Zealand Open follows that of Australia’s four major golf tournaments, all of which were also scheduled for February.

Gleneagles to host 2022 Senior Open

Gleneagles has been announced as the venue for The Senior Open presented by Rolex in 2022, the first time the Scottish course has hosted a senior major.

Gleneagles hosted Europe’s Ryder Cup victory at 2014 and Europe’s dramatic Solheim Cup success in 2019, with the iconic venue also previously playing host to 26 European Tour events since 1974.

The event will be one of three majors in Scotland that summer, with The 150th Open scheduled to be held at St Andrews a week earlier and the AIG Women’s Open that year taking place at Muirfield.

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Johnnie Cole-Hamilton, executive director – Championships at The R&A, said: “This is another great ‘first’ in the history of The Senior Open and we could not be more thrilled to be staging the championship on The King’s Course at Gleneagles.

“With such a strong pedigree in hosting championships, The King’s is a fine test of golf and we know the players will relish the opportunity to play there.

“Adding another renowned venue to the roster is a clear indication of the continuing development of The Senior Open and I’m sure there will be a real sense of anticipation among the players and fans for our first visit to Gleneagles in two years’ time.”

Sunningdale Golf Club hosts the 2021 contest, a year on from the Championship being cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic, with the 35th edition then taking place on the King’s Course at Gleneagles from July 21-24, 2022.

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Ross McGowan’s Italian Open success, Bryson DeChambeau’s added distance and golf’s accessibility issues all feature in the latest Sky Sports Golf podcast.

McGowan joins Mark Roe, Zane Scotland and host Josh Antmann to reflect on his one-shot victory in Italy and discuss how he celebrated ending an 11-year winless run on the European Tour.

The 38-year-old goes through the key shots from his final round at Chervo Golf Club and talks about some of the tougher times he has experienced in his career before his return to the winner’s circle.

The rest of the panel look back at Patrick Cantlay’s win at the Zozo Championship and throw plenty of praise in the direction on Bianca Pagdanganan, who impressed during the LPGA Drive On Championship.

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The guests look at DeChambeau’s social media post of him hitting a 403-yard carry and try to work out how his added distance could benefit him at the Masters next month, with plenty of debate about what can be done to limit the increasing hitting distances within the sport.

Scotland opens up about his experiences of discrimination in golf and offers plenty of solutions and ideas on how to make the game accessible for everybody, while the guests also offer their predictions for this week’s Cyprus Open and Bermuda Championship.

Download and listen to the latest Sky Sports Golf podcast and don’t forget to subscribe via Spotify or Apple Podcasts!

The Vodcast version is out now on Sky Sports On Demand, with the show also on Sky Sports Golf this Wednesday from 7pm and 10pm.

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LPGA Drive On Championship: Free live YouTube stream from LPGA Tour

The LPGA Tour continues this week with the LPGA Drive On Championship, with live coverage available for free via Sky Sports’ live YouTube stream.

World No 5 Danielle Kang headlines a strong field containing three of the world’s top 10, while AIG Women’s Open champion Sophia Popov and recent first-time winner Mel Reid are also involved.

The Great Waters Course is a Jack Nicklaus Signature Design Course that’s hosting an LPGA Tour event for the first time, with Kang arriving as the Race to the CME Globe leader with five events left in the season.

The stream will offer three hours of live coverage from each round of the event at Reynolds Lake Oconee, with coverage getting underway from 6pm for the second and third rounds and then from 5pm on Sunday.

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The event is part of a triple-header of live golf on Sky Sports this week, which also includes the Italian Open and Tiger Woods’ title defence at the Zozo Championship.

Sky Sports subscribers are able to sign in here to watch all the action.

Click on the video above to watch our free live stream from the LPGA Drive On Championship!

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Danielle Kang, Jennifer Song share LPGA Drive On Championship lead

Danielle Kang lived up to her billing as pre-tournament favourite by grabbing a share of the lead after the opening round of the LPGA Drive On Championship.

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LPGA Drive On Championship

The world No 5, the highest-ranked player in the field and current Race to CME Globe leader, carded a bogey-free 65 on the Great Waters Course at Reynolds Lake Oconee.

Kang is tied on seven under with Jennifer Song, who also took advantage of the better scoring conditions for the afternoon wave, with Ally MacDonald a shot off the pace in third.

“This course is really tough and in the afternoon the greens got really crusty, so there was a lot of calculation,” Song said. “I didn’t think that was possible to shoot that score out there, but I had a great round.”

Sweden’s Pernilla Lindberg leads the European interest and sits three strokes off the pace in tied-sixth, while recent winner Mel Reid is in the group on three under that also includes France’s Celine Boutier.

Lexi Thompson and former world No 1 both started with one-under 71s, with AIG Women’s Open champion Sophia Popov posting a level-par 72 and Northern Ireland’s Stephanie Meadow in the group on two over.

Watch the LPGA Drive On Championship throughout the week live on Sky Sports. Live coverage continues Friday from 6pm on Sky Sports Golf and the Sky Sports YouTube channel.

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South African Open Championship added to European Tour schedule

The European Tour has announced an extension to its South African Swing by adding the South African Open Championship to the 2020 Race to Dubai schedule.

Gary Player Country Club in Sun City will host the event from December 3-6, which will be the second time the South African Open has been played this season, having also been held in January.

The event follows on from the Joburg Open and the Alfred Dunhill Championship to mark the end of a three-week stretch of South African-based tournaments, all co-sanctioned with the Sunshine Tour.

Keith Pelley, chief executive of the European Tour, said: “I am delighted to see the South African Open Championship back on our International Schedule this year and sincere thanks go to everyone at the Sunshine Tour, Golf RSA, the South African Golf Association, Nedbank and Sun International for their commitment and support in making this happen.

“Since our season restarted in July, we have taken a measured approach to our tournaments, informed every step of the way by our medical advisers and Government guidance in the countries we play.

“We have also tried to stage consecutive tournaments, wherever possible, in geographical clusters to reduce the onus on international travel, which makes today’s announcement, following on from the news of the Joburg Open and the Alfred Dunhill Championship in preceding weeks on our schedule, all the more pleasing.”

Branden Grace will be the defending champion after his three-shot victory over Louis Oosthuizen at Randpark Golf Club in Johannesburg in January, with Gary Player and Ernie Els among the former winners.

European Tour 2020 schedule (as of October 22)

October 22-25 – Italian Open

October 29-November 1 – Aphrodite Hills Cyprus Open

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November 5-8 – Aphrodite Hills Cyprus Showdown

November 12-15 – The Masters

November 19-22 – Joburg Open

November 26-29 – Alfred Dunhill Championship

December 3-6 – South African Open Championship

December 10-13 – DP World Tour Championship

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Adrian Otaegui claims four-shot victory at Scottish Championship

Adrian Otaegui secured his third European Tour title and first stroke play victory with an impressive four-shot win at the Scottish Championship presented by AXA.

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Scottish Championship presented by AXA

Otaegui fired 10 birdies on his way to a joint-low round-of-the-day 63 at Fairmont St Andrews and ended the week on 23 under, earning the Spaniard a first worldwide victory since the 2018 Belgian Knockout.

Overnight-leader Matt Wallace had to settle for second place after a one-under 71, with Scottish Open champion Aaron Rai six off the pace in third after ending his week with a bogey-free 66.

Otaegui went into the final round four strokes back from Wallace but quickly halved the deficit by holing a 25-foot birdie putt at the first, where Wallace made bogey after having to pitch back into play from behind a wall.

Wallace picked up a shot at the fourth but saw his lead reduced further when Otaegui followed a long-range birdie at the fifth by getting up and down from off the driveable seventh green to add another birdie.

A two-shot swing at the par-three eighth saw Otaegui fire his tee shot to six feet on his way to another birdie and Wallace make bogey after getting a plugged lie in a bunker, with both players then picking up a shot at the par-five next.

They both started the back nine with a bogey, only for Otaegui to go inches away from a hole-in-one at the par-three next and match Wallace’s birdie at the 12th to move two ahead.

Otaegui holed a monster putt from the rough off the 13th green and picked another shot at the 15th, before extending his winning margin by adding a 10th birdie of the day at the par-five last.

Garrick Porteous dropped three shots over his final three holes to slip into tied-fourth alongside Chris Paisley, while Ryder Cup captain Padraig Harrington and former world No 1 Lee Westwood both ended 10 strokes back in a share of 14th.

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McIlroy happy with progress after third-round 66 at CJ Cup

‘I would need to go out and shoot 64 and see where that leaves me’: Rory McIlroy happy with progress after third-round 66 at CJ Cup as he looks to find form before the Masters

  • McIlroy hit a six-under 66 to move to seven shots off leader Russell Henley 
  • It was a great round for McIlroy who had been 12 shots off the lead on Friday 
  • It was a disappointing day for Tyrrell Hatton who dropped back from second 

Rory McIlroy is happy with signs of progress as he looks to get back to best form ahead of the Masters.

He fired a superb six-under 66 on Saturday to move to eight-under on day three of the CJ Cup in Las Vegas.

McIlroy is still to register a worldwide victory in 2020, with the world number four looking for a strong finish to the week to put pressure on those at the top of the leaderboard and make a late challenge for a 19th PGA Tour title.

Rory McIlroy shot a superb six-under 66 on Saturday to close the gap to top of the leaderboard

McIlroy was 12 shots off the pace after two rounds but closed the gap down to just seven

His performance on Saturday pushed him into the top-ten and seven strokes behind 54-hole leader Russell Henley.

As reported by Sky Sports, McIlroy said after his performance: ‘I think after the three weeks off after the US Open and getting home and recharging, I sort of viewed this as like a six-week run-up until Augusta,’ McIlroy said. ‘I’m trying to work hard.

‘I’m trying to do the right things, working hard on my game, working hard on what I need not just for these weeks, but obviously looking ahead to Augusta as well. 

‘That’s energising, right? Something to build towards and that’s sort of what I’m trying to do.

 ‘The last two weeks every swing that I’ve made, every ball that I’ve hit has been with at least two or three swing thoughts. Yesterday was a little better and then today again I hit the ball pretty good, especially off the tee again. That was a big plus.

‘I’ve been sort of complaining about my driving and off the tee, but this week’s been really good. So if I can just keep continuing to see progress there into tomorrow, it would be great to shoot another low one and get myself right up there. But I feel like I’ve made some good strides in my game.’

When asked whether he can the trophy he added: ‘There’s not much separation, so I would need to go out and maybe shoot 64 tomorrow and see where that leaves me.

McIlroy is hoping to find some late form going into the Masters after not winning in 2020

‘But it was a good round today, I played better. I did what I wanted to do and that’s all I can ask for.”

Meanwhile Englishman Tyrrell Hatton lost ground on day three in Las Vegas.

Hatton was three shots off the lead in second place on Friday night but followed rounds of 65 and 68 with a one-over 73.  

McIlroy by contrast was 12 shots off the pace after opening rounds of 73 and 69, before he closed the gap with his six-under 66 to move to eight-under for the tournament. 

Tyrrell Hatton hit a disappointing one-over 73 dropping back from what was second place

He took birdies on the par-four third and sixth holes, dropped a shot on the long seventh, but then made six birdies against just one bogey in playing his back nine in five-under, including birdying his last three holes.

Henley was an unspectacular model of consistency in building his lead as he hit five birdies and had a bogey-free round. 

England’s Matthew Fitzpatrick, shot an even-par 72 to be seven-under while Ian Poulter shot 73 to be four-under and 11 off the lead and Justin Rose, whose 68 had him at two-under.

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Tyrrell Hatton follows BMW PGA win by leading CJ Cup in Las Vegas

Tyrrell Hatton followed up his BMW PGA Championship victory by setting the early pace after the opening round of The CJ Cup in Las Vegas.

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The CJ Cup at Shadow Creek

Hatton, who moved inside the world’s top ten for the first time in his career with victory at Wentworth on Sunday, continued his hot streak by overcoming jet lag to card a seven-under 65 at Shadow Creek.

The 29-year-old sits a shot clear of Russell Henley and Xander Schauffele, with Jon Rahm – who can leapfrog Dustin Johnson as world No 1 this week – two strokes back in fourth after an opening 67.

“We got off to a great start,” Hatton said. “I imagine it would have been a lot tougher round if, being as tired as I was, we didn’t quite have that momentum. To shoot that score today, I’m really happy.”

Beginning on the back nine, Hatton got off to a hot start by opening with successive birdies and followed a hole-out eagle from the 12th fairway by draining a 25-footer at the par-four 14th.

Hatton added a five-foot birdie at the 17th and picked up a shot at the first, before cancelling a first dropped shot of the day at the par-four next by holing from 10 feet at the par-five fourth.

The Englishman missed an eight-footer to save par at the sixth and failed to take advantage of the par-five next, only to roll in a nine-foot birdie at the par-three eighth and set the clubhouse target.

Henley birdied two of his last three holes to get to six under and Schauffele also closed out a six-under 66 late in the day, while Tyler Duncan jumped to tied-fourth alongside Rahm and Ian Poulter matched Matt Fitzpatrick’s opening 69.

Defending champion Justin Thomas double-bogeyed his final hole after a wild tee shot to card a level-par 72, with Rory McIlroy a further shot off the pace after finishing with three consecutive bogeys.

Watch The CJ Cup throughout the week live on Sky Sports. Live coverage continues on Friday with Featured Groups from 5.45pm live on Sky Sports Golf.

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Justin Thomas ‘messed around’ with ways to add speed and distance

Justin Thomas says he has “messed around” with ways to increase speed and distance off the tee, although has ruled out copying Bryson DeChambeau’s weight gain to reach his targets.

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Thomas was a three-time winner on the PGA Tour last season, posting victories at the CJ Cup, Sentry Tournament of Championship and the WGC-FedEx St Jude Invitational, where he was ranked 35th in driving distance and averaging 304.2 yards off the tee.

DeChambeau has hit the headlines in recent months for moving top of the PGA Tour’s driving distance stats adding nearly three stone in weight, mostly muscle, while Thomas has trialled other methods to try and gain an advantage.

“I have messed around with some stuff for me,” Thomas told the media ahead his CJ Cup title defence. “I just want some more speed. I feel like I’ve been good at having another gear, another five or 10 yards if I need it, but I don’t necessarily have that other 20.

“At the same time, and this is not disrespectful to Bryson, I’m not going to put on 40 pounds. I don’t have the height to do that, I’m going to look like a beach ball if I put on 40 pounds. I can get stronger in different parts of my body that can help me hit it farther and gain some distance, but I hit it plenty far enough to win tournaments and do well.

“At the end of the day, if I continue to hit the same distance and play the rest of my career injury free, that’s most important and that’s what I’ve been trying to do with my training. We’re going to see if we can incorporate some stuff that gets me a little bit more speed.”

Brooks Koepka returns to action at Shadow Creek this week for the first time since August, having failed to qualify for the FedExCup play-offs and then missing the US Open with injury.

DeChambeau dominated the field to claim a six-shot victory at Winged Foot, with Koepka admitting to not watching any of the major but crediting DeChambeau’s transformation and added distance.

“He’s always had the speed,” Koepka admitted. “He’s pushing it to that next level, finding the boundaries of how far he can actually hit it and play with it and he’s done a good job of that.

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“He’s hitting it a mile. Yeah, I mean, the 48-inch driver, I don’t know. If he uses it, there’s a chance he gains even more yardage.

“Hey, it’s something he’s found that’s working for him. It’s cool to see just kind of as like a fan of the game. I don’t see anything wrong with it. Hey, it’s working for him.”

Watch the CJ Cup throughout the week live on Sky Sports. Live coverage begins with Featured Groups on Thursday from 5.45pm on Sky Sports Golf and 10pm on Sky Sports Main Event.

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Byron Nelson Classic: American Jason Kokrak leads by five after second round

AUSTRALIAN veteran Rod Pampling made four birdies in five holes in a mid-round surge during the Byron Nelson Classic in Texas.

After starting his round with six consecutive pars, Pampling went on an impressive run, starting with a 2m birdie putt on the par-5 seventh. The 47-year-old backed it up with longer birdie putts at the par-4 eighth and ninth holes.

Pampling also made a birdie at the par-4 11th before dropping a shot at the par-4 14th.

The veteran Queenslander is eight shots behind runaway leader, American Jason Kokrak.

Kokrak’s collection of four birdies on his outward nine was matched on the run home at TPC Four Seasons in a bogey-free round of 62.

He holds a five-shot lead over fellow American Billy Horschel who backed up an opening round 68 with a five-under par 65.

Jason Kokrak.Source:AFP

Jason Day had a promising round going until the par-five 16th hole when he lost his ball off the tee and took a double-bogey to finish at three-under, nine shots off the pace after carding a one-under 69.

Marc Leishman and Greg Chalmers will also be in action at the weekend after they both had rounds of 71 to be at one-under.

World No.1 Dustin Johnson is within striking distance after shooting a second consecutive three-under-par 67 to be six-under at the halfway mark of the tournament.

One man who will not be around for the weekend, though, is Jordan Spieth after he missed the cut following a bogey-laden 75.

It was on the par-5 16th where the real damage was done as he had to take three tee shots on his way to a nine after sending his first two attempts out of bounds.

Reigning champion and recent Masters winner Sergio Garcia is 10 shots off the lead despite a superb round of 65, recovering from what was a poor first round.

Originally published asAussie veteran charges, leader breaks away

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Tiger, daylight, silence and grass: One month from a very different Masters

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Augusta National Golf Club opened to its membership on Monday, an annual fall occurrence that typically occurs without much fanfare. It is a private club, after all. Other sports are in full song, particularly football. Normally, the annual Masters tournament is still six months away, the golf calendar filled with a bunch of sleepy event this time of year.

Nothing, of course, is normal about 2020. Augusta National was closed as usual for the summer, but shut down more than two months early due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Masters Tournament was lost in the bedlam, just a month prior to its start, and eventually postponed to November.

That seemed long ago.

Now we are a month away from the first fall Masters, and the potential for a wonderfully different look at a revered, historic place in the game that will see Tiger Woods attempt to defend his 2019 title 19 months later on the hallowed Georgia grounds that will be without spectators.

Here is how things stand with another four weeks to go until the third major championship of 2020:

The course

Some stunning photos surfaced recently on Eureka Earth, which took aerial shots of Augusta National in late September. Except for the greens, the entire place was brown. Many fairway areas appeared to be shaved bare. Bunkers had liners but not all had sand.

And this is, well, par for the course.

The fairways and rough at Augusta National have Bermuda grass, the predominant grass that typically prospers in the warm, summer months. As the club is closing in late May, the Bermuda pushes out the rye grass overseed. It is what you would expect of most courses in the South.

But because Augusta National is closed in the summer, there is no need to maintain the Bermuda. The greens — which are bent grass — are kept in top condition, but the rest of the course is not in the traditional sense, unless there is some sort of work being done or changes made.

Hence the photos.

But, magically, some 10 days later, those same photos showed a green golf course.

Each September, Augusta National puts down a rye overseed that is meant to keep the grass green through the fall and winter months. And it’s how the course appears in April for the Masters.

With less time to be ready for a November Masters, it will be fascinating to see how Augusta National plays. Will the turf possibly be thinner than usual? Will it play faster? Could there be cooler mornings? All of this is to be discovered.

The field

The field is set at 96 players and has been since the postponed tournament dates were announced in April. Before play was halted due to the pandemic, there were just two remaining ways to qualify for the Masters for those not otherwise invited: to win the Players Championship, Valspar Championship, WGC-Dell match Play or Valero Texas Open; or be among the top 50 in the world on the Monday following the Match Play.

The Masters then went with the most recent published top 50 in the Official World Ranking. Four players qualified who were not otherwise exempt: then-No. 44 Collin Morikawa, No. 45 Scottie Scheffler and No. 47 Christiaan Bezuidenhout are making their Masters debuts. Graeme McDowell also snuck into the top 50 and will play his first Masters since 2016.

The (mini) controversy

Daniel Berger was well outside of the top 50 in the world when golf was halted following the first round of the Players Championship. He won the first tournament back, the Charles Schwab Challenge in June, and he has add six top-25 finishes since to move up to No. 12 in the world.

Certainly Berger has a case to be in the Masters field given his world ranking. So do Viktor Hovland and Harris English. Both have moved into the top 50. But barring some last-minute change, they won’t be at Augusta National.

Imagine the uproar if Morikawa had not snuck into the top 50 in the spring? He has since won the PGA Championship, which by itself would not have qualified him for this unique Masters because the August tournament was after the Masters cutoff.

Those still trying to qualify for the 2020 Masters missed out on four potential winning possibilities and the ability to move into the top 50.

But Augusta’s stance is solid: Qualification for the 2020 Masters ended in March. Anything that occurred after that applies to the 2021 Masters, which will be just five months later.

The field size is always an issue with the Masters. It rarely goes over 100 players. Last year, it was 87. With far less daylight in the fall, getting the field through 18 holes each day is an issue that likely led to a decision to not add any more players.

The tee times

An issue unlike any other Masters. Instead of daylight saving time, the Masters will operate on standard time. That means approximately two hours less daylight per day. It will be dark around 5:30 p.m. ET. That means, possibly, the need for a two-tee start on Thursday and Friday.

And having to start the first round of the Masters on the 10th tee and facing Amen Corner early in the morning is not an ideal situation.

Could everyone play off the first tee?

It’s possible, but it would be extremely tight. Last year, the final tee time was at 2 p.m. To get in before darkness, the last time can really be no later than about 12:30 p.m., if you consider threesomes are going to take five hours.

But … if you started at 7 a.m. and went in 11-minute intervals, you could have 32 tee times of three players each that run through 12:39 p.m. Delays of any kind would mean the last groups won’t finish. But Augusta National might be willing to take that chance.

Also to be considered: the honorary starters, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player. Do they tee off in virtual darkness before 7 a.m.?

Without a one-tee start, the Masters would need to go to a two-tee start with a morning and afternoon wave. You would have eight groups of three players tee off the first and 10th tees in the morning, and then another wave of the same in the afternoon.

After 36 holes, there will be a cut to the top 50 and ties, which should allow for normal one-tee start in twos for the third round. But due to CBS’ NFL commitment on Sunday, the fourth round is scheduled to end by approximately 2:30 p.m ET, allowing time for a sudden-death playoff if necessary. That will again mean starting players off both tees.

The defending champion

Woods will have one more start prior to the Masters, as he has entered next week’s Zozo Championship at Sherwood Country Club. It is the tournament he won a year ago — his 82nd PGA Tour title, tying Sam Snead for the most — when it was played in Japan.

How Woods looks at Sherwood in Southern California is anybody’s guess, but if past results are an indicator then there should not be much in the way of expectations for Woods.

He missed the cut at the U.S. Open last month, meaning that during an 11-week stretch between the BMW Championship in August and the Masters, Woods will have played just six competitive rounds.

It’s the least he’s played leading to a Masters since he took nine weeks prior to the 2015 tournament, where he tied for 17th. In 2010, Woods didn’t play all year until the Masters and tied for fourth.

Leading to his 2019 victory, Woods played two weeks prior at the Match Play and a total of four times in eight weeks prior.

After his victory at the Zozo a year ago, Woods was ranked sixth in the world, which is where he ended 2019. He has dropped to 24th.

The bomber

How Bryson DeChambeau plays Augusta National should be fascinating to watch. He’s clearly not interested in navigating his way around the course. The U.S. Open champion said he’s been working on putting a driver with a 48-inch shaft into play specifically for the Masters. Many wondered how his newfound long game that included some 50 pounds of weight gain would fare on a difficult course. Well, DeChambeau was the only player under par at Winged Foot, and he won by six.

The losses due to the pandemic

The Augusta National Women’s Amateur was canceled, as was the Drive, Chip & Putt Championship. Both of those pre-tournament staples played on the weekend prior will have to wait until April.

What is unclear is if Woods will be able to host a Champions Dinner in the clubhouse, on the patio — or at all. So far, no word. Same for the annual Par 3 Contest, which if it is played would undoubtedly be missing all of the spouses, kids and grandkids who frequent the event.

The patrons

Augusta National’s term for the fans or spectators who attend the tournament won’t be of much use this year — as there won’t be any. That’s a huge hit to the club’s bottom line (for the first time, merchandise will be made available for a short time online to contracted ticket holders), despite its enormous resources.

And it’s a huge blow to the tournament that in part has become famous worldwide for the cheers and groans that echo among the huge pine trees, making for one of sports’ great spectacles.

This time, we’ll hear the echo of club meeting ball, birds chirping and maybe a smattering of applause from volunteers or club members who are permitted onto the course.

But those ear-shattering roars will be missing. And they will also be missed.

Woods, who many times has commented on how the support of the spectators played such an important role in his victory in 2019, unknowingly foreshadowed what this year might look like way before anyone could imagine what the world would endure.

As he exited the clubhouse on that Sunday night in April after his victory, the sun had yet to completely drop underneath the clouds, a far different setting than the champion would encounter in the late-night darkness.

“I have never seen the golf course empty like that,” Woods said. “I was out there with [children] Sam and Charlie and I said, ‘This is what Augusta National is like.’ You see the beauty of it. The rolling hills. The perfect grass. It was immaculate.

“It’s so different when nobody is out there. That’s when they started to understand how beautiful the place is.”

It sure is, and perhaps this unique Masters will offer the opportunity to appreciate that even more.

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