EDITOR'S NOTE—This story was written prior to the PGA Tour's Thursday announcement that it was canceling the remainder of the Players Championship.
PONTE VEDRA BEACH — Rory McIlroy has had no problem taking the lead on many of the most pressing issues in golf (the Premier Golf League, the potential rollback of the ball, to name a few), and he's often on the perceived correct side of each one. Naturally, his stance on the current coronavirus scare was of interest from the media following McIlroy's first round of the Players Championship.
After opening with an even-par 72 that included birdies on his final three holes, the four-time major champ was asked what needs to happen if just one player or one caddie were to get the virus. He did not hold back.
"We need to shut it down then," McIlroy said. "More than anything else, we need to get … everyone needs to get tested. I don't know, I saw that obviously there's commercial labs now are testing at some capacity, I guess, but I think for us to keep playing on tour ... all the tour players and people that are involved need to get tested and make sure that no one's got it, because obviously everyone knows you can have it and not have symptoms and pass it on to someone that's more susceptible to getting very ill from it."
On Friday, no fans will be allowed inside the gates at TPC Sawgrass, which should make for an eerie scene. Despite all of Wednesday night's news in the world of sports, fans were still allowed on the grounds Thursday, something McIlroy felt was inevitable.
"I think if it had been earlier, they probably wouldn't have let them in. But because all the fans were already here, I don't think there's much they could have done about that. I don't know. So they at least got to enjoy themselves for one day and, yeah, now it's going to look a little different."
No galleries won't be all that unusual to McIlroy. In the fall, McIlroy was in the field at the Zozo Championship when the gates were closed on Friday due to a typhoon in Japan. At the 2012 AT&T National at Congresssional, where McIlroy also teed it up, the third round was closed to spectators after a powerful wind storm left trees upended across the golf course.
"It could become the new norm, who knows?" McIlroy said. "It's going to get worse before it gets better. You look at the trends and you look at everything that's happening across the rest of the world, it's [the coronavirus] in its infancy here in the United States.
"I think it's a hard one because you look at volunteers out here and a lot of volunteers are in their 60s and 70s and retired, and you don't want someone that's got the virus that passes it on to them and then they're susceptible. My mother's got respiratory issues and I certainly don't want to get something and pass it on to her and all of a sudden there's some sort of complication."
As for whether the tour should follow all the other sports that have shut down, that's not McIlroy's decision to make.
"The tour is [working] with the best health officials and CDC and WHO, whoever it is that they're dealing with, and if they think that it's safe for play to go ahead, but with no spectators, then I guess who am I to say any different."