September slot is possibility if postponed Masters is rescheduled

The first week in September looks the likely slot for a rescheduled 2020 Masters after the inevitable decision was taken by Augusta National Golf Club to postpone next month’s planned event due to the coronavirus.

The Masters, the traditional first men's major of the season at Augusta National Golf Club, could be staged outside of April for only the third time in the event's history. Picture: Mike Ehrmann/Getty
The Masters, the traditional first men's major of the season at Augusta National Golf Club, could be staged outside of April for only the third time in the event's history. Picture: Mike Ehrmann/Getty

Of all the tournaments that have been called off over the past few weeks and, in particular, the last few days, the traditional opening men’s major of the season is the one that most people will want to see take place later in the season.

Professional golf at the top level is now in lockdown, with tournaments on the European Tour, PGA Tour, LPGA Tour and Ladies European Tour all being postponed. The Players Championship, the PGA Tour’s flagship event, was halted after the opening round at Sawgrass in Florida after an earlier announcement that the final three days would be played behind closed doors.

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With the next three scheduled events on the US circuit being cancelled at the same time, The Masters was immediately thrown into serious doubt, with confirmation that it had joined the list 
of casualties due to the 
pandemic coming from Fred Ridley, the Augusta National chairman.

“Unfortunately, the ever-increasing risks associated with the widespread Coronavirus COVID-19 have led us to a decision that undoubtedly will be disappointing to many, although I am confident is appropriate under these unique circumstances,” he said.

“Ultimately, the health and well-being of everyone associated with these events and the citizens of the Augusta community led us to this decision. We hope this postponement puts us in the best position to safely host the Masters Tournament and our amateur events (the Augusta National Women’s Amateur and the Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals) at some later date.”

Only twice before – the inaugural one in 1934 then again in 1939 – has the tournament been held outside of April. Who knows when the professional game will be up and running again and, due to its international nature with players representing countries around the world at the top level, that is unlikely to happen very quickly.

The scheduled second men’s major of the season, the US PGA Championship, which is due to be held at Harding Park in San Francisco in mid-May, already looks as though it could be under threat, with the US Open at Winged Foot in June and The Open at Royal St George’s the following month also up in the air as things stand.

The same goes for the Olympics, of course, with golf due to be staged in the Tokyo Games in August, which has added to an already crammed summer calendar, raising the question of when might a rescheduled Masters fit in.

Well, the FedEx Cup Play-Offs start with the Northern Trust Open on 13 August and finish at the Tour Championship in Atlanta on 30 August. While not ideal, it could be that the following week is a possibility for Tiger Woods to defend his Green Jacket and Rory McIlroy to have another run at trying to complete the career grand slam.

Going by the current season, the 2020-21 PGA Tour campaign wouldn’t be due to start until mid-September and, though that would leave the Porsche European Open on the European Tour up against The Masters, it certainly looks to be the best available September slot.

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Put it this way, European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley will be reluctant to move the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth from its slot the following week and anything later then starts to cut across the Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits.

The battle for spots on the European and US teams for that event has, of course, now been put on hold and, though all the players are in the same boat, opportunities to enhance chances of 
playing under Padraig Harrington and Steve Stricker are being lost over the next few weeks.

PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan, who defended the decision to start The Players Championship, insisting his organisation had made the “right decisions at the right time over the course of the week”, has said there will be no second attempt to stage it this year.

If The Masters is rescheduled, what will the entry criteria be? You’d imagine that all the players who had already secured an invitation will automatically be in the field, but what about the scheduled final cut-off on 30 March? If that is extended, then Bob MacIntyre’s hopes of flying the Saltire along with former winner Sandy Lyle will suddenly be alive and kicking again.