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Around major time, players are extra cautious when it comes to COVID-19

Sergio Garcia
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AUGUSTA, Ga. – In the weeks leading up to last year’s one-off November Masters, Gary Woodland became something of a hermit.

Before his stop at Augusta National, Woodland strictly adhered to all of the protocols on testing, social distancing, mask wearing and safer-at-home policies. He even took his son, Jaxson, out of school the week prior to the tournament in an attempt to avoid any potential exposure and the most untimely of positive tests.

In a twist of testing and protocols, however, Woodland’s positive test last month following The Players Championship turned out to be beneficial on at least one front.

“That was the only bright side, was not having to test for that for three months,” Woodland said. “For the last year I’ve been really nervous about it before the majors.”

Under the testing protocols, Woodland won’t be tested for three months which means he’ll play the year’s first three major championships without another positive testing and an unwanted withdrawal hanging over his head.

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Woodland had been staying at a rental house during The Players Championship with nine members of his family, including his wife, son and parents. All nine people tested positive for COVID-19, including his father and 3-year-old son.

“I didn’t have horrible symptoms, just felt like I had the flu for a few days. The same for my wife, but my son was pretty sick,” Woodland said. “It was scary when you see a 3-year-old with it.”

There’s no good time to catch the coronavirus but testing positive the week before one of the four biggest events of the year can be crushing. Just ask Sergio Garcia.

Garcia was poised to return to Augusta National, the site of his only major championship victory, last fall before testing positive for the coronavirus. He was forced to miss the Masters and his streak of 84 consecutive majors ended.

“[His wife] Angela, unfortunately, got it worse; I gave it to her and she got it worse than me,” Garcia said. “It was disappointing, I'm not going to lie.”

Like Woodland, Garcia had been extra careful before the majors but following his positive test he decided to take even more precautions before this week’s Masters.

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Garcia didn’t play last week’s Valero Texas Open, which is in his adopted home state and a semi-regular stop on his schedule, and he’s tried to keep his distance from fans in recent weeks.

“I would love to get closer to the fans, but there's too much at risk, at stake for us and if we get COVID because of anything, we're the one that pays. We pay the price. No one else does,” he said. “We have to be very careful as the fans come back into our game, which is great to have them, don't get me wrong.”

As the country inches toward more COVID-19 vaccinations and restrictions are gradually easing it’s understandable to be lulled into a false sense of security. “To be honest, I thought we were kind of past it. I’d been so careful,” Woodland said.

But the added degree of scrutiny and testing in the run-up to the Masters has prompted many to double down on their efforts and a potential positive test is always looming.

“I even thought about it last week I came up for a practice round and thought, well, I have to take a test to come and play the practice round. What happens if I'm positive; am I going to miss by running the risk of testing today?” said Adam Scott, who tested positive for COVID-19 last fall at the Zozo Championship.

The alternative, as Garcia learned at the Masters and Scottie Scheffler discovered at last year’s U.S. Open where he was forced to withdraw following a positive test, is an unwanted week off with history on the line.

“I talked with Sergio about that, and it's gutting because in some ways, although it means not much, like having that streak that he had, it meant something,” Scott said. “The longevity, it's pretty much overlooked generally, but it's an amazing streak of good golf that he's played, to have 84 straight. He was more than a little disappointed to test out that week.”

COVID-19 testing has become a part of everyday life on Tour. It’s part of the routine, but during certain weeks, like this week, the testing takes on an entirely new level of urgency.