Rory McIlroy has ‘no problem’ heading to Covid hotspot California

World No 1 ‘focused’ on Memorial Tournament due to strength of field

Rory McIlroy faces a threat to his world No 1 spot this week. Picture: Darron Cummings/AP
Rory McIlroy faces a threat to his world No 1 spot this week. Picture: Darron Cummings/AP

World No 1 Rory McIlroy has “no problem” about heading to Covid hotspot California next month for the opening major of the 2020 season.

Gyms, churches and hairdressers have been told to close in more than half of California’s 58 counties after the state recorded more than 8,000 new coronavirus cases on Sunday.

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The spike has occurred in the countdown to the rescheduled US PGA Championship, which is set to take place behind closed doors at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco on 6-9 August.

“Look, there’s a lot of places in the United States right now that there’s a lot of cases, whether this is the second wave or still part of the first wave,” said McIlroy, who is teeing up for a fourth time since the PGA Tour’s return in this week’s Memorial Tournament.

“But I think there’s no substitute for washing your hands and social distancing and making sure that you’re doing the right things. I think if everyone does that and everyone is responsible, I have no problem going to California and playing a golf tournament there.”

McIlroy’s place at the top of the world rankings is under threat at Muirfield Village, where Dustin Johnson, Webb Simpson, Jon Rahm and Justin Thomas have an opportunity to take over as No 1.

“This is a huge event,” admitted McIlroy. “I saw a stat yesterday that this field is stronger than the last eight Masters tournaments in terms of strength of field, so there’s a lot of obviously world ranking points, and there’s a lot to be focused on this week.”

The four-time major winner shot two 63s and also a 65 in his first three events since coming out of lockdown, but his best finish was a tie for 11th in the Travelers Championship.

“I had planned to play the Workday (the first leg of a double-header at Muirfield Village last week), but I just needed to do a little bit of work on my game, so I got my coach, Michael Bannon, over last week,” he said.

“It was the first time I’d seen him since the start of February, so it was nice to spend some time with him and get some good work done and feel a bit better about my game and my swing going into this week, and then obviously looking ahead to the next couple of months.

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“This might sound a little bad, but, looking back on the first three events that I played, I sort of treated them as sort of dipping my toes back in the water again and seeing how things were and how things felt in terms of no crowds and how different it was.

“I think those three weeks definitely give me a better understanding of how it’s going to be going forward. I haven’t necessarily been in contention the last few times that we’ve played without fans

“But I’ve realised personally that it’s very hard for me to keep focus out here. I feel like when there’s fans and there’s that energy and the atmosphere. But, when you don’t have that, I felt the first three weeks my mind was wandering a little bit and I think some of the mistakes I was making were because of that.

“I think you just have to work really hard to keep your mind on the task at hand and not let your mind wander because there’s so many opportunities for it to wander because we’re in big, open spaces and you’re looking around, and you don’t have that sort of tunnel of people to keep your focus.”

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