PGA Tour makes subdued return, Rose sets pace at Colonial


(Reuters) – The PGA Tour quietly returned to action for the first time in three months amid the COVID-19 pandemic as the world’s best golfers competed at a spectator-free Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas on Thursday.

Everyone in a field featuring the top five golfers in the world rankings underwent mandatory testing prior to teeing off at the Charles Schwab Challenge where the PGA Tour ended its longest unscheduled break from competition since World War Two.

“Just being out here is successful, to be honest with you, getting started,” said American Ryan Palmer, who hit the day’s opening tee shot.

“I don’t see anything holding us back moving forward. I think today was the biggest day, just getting this first day off.”

Despite an unusually deep field that was reminiscent of a major championship as players were eager to shake off the rust of a forced shutdown, the action was subdued with no spectators to applaud the awe-inspiring shots.

Englishman Justin Rose showed no signs of the long layoff as he waltzed into the first-round clubhouse lead with a bogey-free seven-under-par 63 that left him one shot clear of Venezuela’s Jhonattan Vegas.

“It felt strange to be honest,” Vegas, whose lone bogey came at his penultimate hole, said about playing without fans.

“Obviously, hit a lot of good shots, and not hearing those claps, it felt odd. But like I said, it’s something we’re going to have to get used to for a little while.”

Palmer (72) began his round about two hours before the 8:46 a.m. (1346 GMT) tee time was left vacant as golfers stopped play to observe a moment of silence to honor George Floyd, the black man who died last month after a white police officer knelt on his neck.

It was a solemn scene as golfers and caddies stood with their heads bowed during a time slot selected to reflect how long – 8 minutes and 46 seconds – the officer’s knee was on Floyd’s neck.

Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm and Brooks Koepka, who make up the top three in the world rankings, were a late threesome playing two groups behind the trio of Justin Thomas, Rickie Fowler and Jordan Spieth.

Reporting by Frank Pingue and Steve Keating in Toronto, editing by Ed Osmond