The Open Championship has had high-profile withdrawals after Hideki Matsuyama, the Masters champion, joined Bubba Watson in confirming he will not play at Royal St George’s. Both have problems arising from coronavirus.
Watson, a two-time Masters champion, took to social media to explain he had “direct exposure” to someone who has tested positive for Covid-19. “While I am vaccinated and have passed the required pre-travel Covid test, not enough time has passed for me to comfortably join the charter flight [from the US] and risk exposure to the other players and personnel on board,” he said. Brendan Steele, from California, has stepped from the reserve list to take Watson’s spot.
Matsuyama tested positive for Covid-19 in the US on 2 July but he has showed no symptoms and retained hope of travelling to England. The return of further positive PCR tests, however, and an inability to break free from isolation means Matsuyama will miss the fourth and final major of the year, a tournament already affected by player withdrawals.
“I’m feeling fine but haven’t been able to practise in preparation for the Open,” Matsuyama said. “Combining that with the difficult travel to the UK, my team and I have decided it’s best to withdraw to ensure everyone’s safety. I feel badly missing the Open and look forward to playing again at St Andrews next year. I’d like to thank the many golf fans for their continued concern and support as I strive to return to the game I love as soon as possible.”
Matsuyama still hopes to compete in the Tokyo Olympics, with his status as part of the Japanese team enhanced by victory at Augusta National in April, where he became the first male golfer from Japan to win a major. His global profile means his absence from the Open will be keenly felt by the tournament organisers. The American Harold Varner III will take the 29-year-old’s place in the draw.
Even before Matsuyama’s and Watson’s withdrawals, Matthew Wolff, K H Lee, Danny Lee, Kevin Na, Kim Si-woo and Im Sung-jae had all announced they would not travel to the 149th Open Championship. Given the scale of international travel for many participants, there remains the prospect of further disruption before the tournament begins on Thursday.
Up to 32,000 spectators per day will be able to attend the Open, which was postponed last year. Players and caddies must adhere to strict bubble conditions, which prohibit them from visiting bars and restaurants while in Kent.
Rory McIlroy, Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler were among those seen partaking in on-course preparation work at Royal St George’s on Sunday. As they did so, the 22-year-old Australian Min Woo Lee was becoming the youngest winner of the Scottish Open. Lee took the title, the most significant of his career, with a superb birdie at the first play-off hole.
Lee, Matt Fitzpatrick and Thomas Detry had finished 72 holes in a tie at 18 under par. From there, Lee displayed calmness as belied his top level inexperience.
“I dreamt of this last night; there were people back home staying up watching me so this is for them,” Lee said. “I have been playing really well for a few weeks but just made some mistakes which stopped me from capitalising properly. I’m going to enjoy this one.” Lee’s older sister, Minjee Lee, is a successful player on the LPGA Tour.
Lee, Detry and Jack Senior earned Open berths via their displays at the Renaissance Club in East Lothian. “There’s no reason why I cannot go there and have another good week,” said a rejuvenated Senior, who began the Scottish Open as 353rd in the world.
Ian Poulter had produced a stunning final round of 63 but fell short of the play-off by one. “It was a great day,” said Poulter, who is firmly part of this year’s Ryder Cup equation.
Justin Thomas crossed the border in confident mood after signing off with a 65 for a 15-under-par aggregate. “If I play four rounds like I did today, I think we’re going to have a pretty good chance,” Thomas said. “I’m excited for it. I like the state that my game is in. I like the way that it’s trending, at least. But that being said, it’s golf, and it doesn’t just continue because you want it to. You have to keep working at it and pushing at it. I’ve got a day to rest and then get to learn a course I’ve never played before and get ready come Thursday.”