PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – The PGA Tour has reversed course and announced the cancellation of The Players as well as the next three events on the schedule because of the coronavirus outbreak.
The late-night decision comes less than 12 hours after Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said that the circuit’s flagship event would continue for the next three rounds but without spectators.
Players were notified via text at about 9:50 p.m. ET Thursday that the tournament had been scrapped because of the "rapidly changing situation" regarding COVID-19. In a follow-up text, the Tour said that the next three events (Valspar Championship, WGC-Dell Match Play and Valero Texas Open) were also canceled.
The next tournament on the schedule is the Masters, which is slated to begin April 9.
“We have pledged from the start to be responsible, thoughtful and transparent with our decision process,” the Tour said in a statement. “We did everything possible to create a safe environment for our players in order to continue the event through the weekend, and we were endeavoring to give our fans a much-needed respite from the current climate. But at this point – and as the situation continues to rapidly change – the right thing to do for our players and our fans is to pause.”
As recently as 6:45 p.m. Thursday, the Tour had released a detailed operations plan for the next three rounds, including player support services, broadcast notes, parking plans and media availability.
The Tour was facing mounting pressure after an extraordinary day in which nearly every other major sports league canceled events, put their season on hold or pushed back the start of a season. One day after the NBA paused its season after the Utah Jazz's Rudy Gobert tested positive for the coronavirus, the NCAA made the unprecedented decision to call off its men’s and women’s college basketball tournaments, as well as every other winter and spring championship. Previously, the NCAA had announced that the games would go on but would be played in mostly empty arenas. MLB has delayed its opening day by at least two weeks, while the NHL, MLS and other leagues also went on temporary hiatus.
Earlier Thursday, the LPGA announced that it was postponing its next three tournaments – including the year’s first major, the ANA Inspiration – because of the spread of the coronavirus. Appearing on Golf Channel’s “Live From The Players,” commissioner Mike Whan said of the decision to reschedule the events later in the year: “This is a decision I may not like, but I don’t think I’ll ever regret. I just wasn’t willing to live with being wrong.”
Earlier this week, during his annual Players address, Monahan cautioned that, while it was a "very dynamic situation," the Tour was “full steam ahead” after being in communication with various health organizations.
Midway through the opening round Thursday, however, the Tour announced that there would be no fans for the last three rounds, and at least the next three tournaments through the Texas Open.
On a sun-splashed day and in front of decent crowds, Hideki Matsuyama tied the course record at TPC Sawgrass with a 9-under 63 in the opening round, taking a two-shot lead over Harris English, Si Woo Kim and Christiaan Bezuidenhout. World No. 1 Rory McIlroy was nine shots off the pace.
After his round, McIlroy called for all players and caddies to be tested for the coronavirus. When asked what should happen if anyone tested positive, McIlroy said: “We need to shut it down.”
“More than anything, everyone needs to get tested,” he said. “For us to keep playing on the PGA Tour, all the Tour players and people who are involved need to get tested and make sure no one has got it.”
The Players Championship is the Tour’s premier event and features a $15 million purse, the richest prize in golf. It was not immediately clear whether the event would be rescheduled.
Monahan is scheduled to hold a news conference at 8 a.m. ET Friday.
The cancellation extends to all of the PGA Tour’s feeder circuits, including the Korn Ferry Tour. The gateway to the PGA Tour was scheduled to have three events in the next three weeks, but now will be canceled through at least April 5.