Memorial Tournament host Jack Nicklaus expressed his sympathy to Jon Rahm following his dramatic withdrawal from the event while holding a six-shot lead.
The defending champion was primed to become the first back-to-back champion at Muirfield Village since Tiger Woods, 20 years ago, when a superb third-round 64 opened up a commanding lead over the field.
But as Rahm left the 18th green on Saturday evening, he was met by PGA Tour medical advisor Dr Tom Hospel, who informed him that he had tested positive for Covid-19 and would now have to go into isolation for a 10-day period.
Rahm has been tested for coronavirus each day after tournament officials discovered through their contact tracing protocol that the Spaniard had previously been in close contact with a person who had tested positive for Covid-19.
The world No 3 had tested negative all week until Saturday, when a positive Covid-19 diagnosis was confirmed while Rahm was on the 18th fairway, leaving officials with no option but to remove him from the tournament.
“I feel very bad for Jon Rahm,” said Nicklaus in a statement. “He’s played absolutely brilliant golf this week. Jon knew as early as Monday that he had come in close contact with an individual who tested COVID positive, and he followed all PGA Tour protocols as it relates to contact tracing.
“There was no choice for the Tour or Jon. On behalf of the Memorial Tournament, our hearts go out to Jon and his family, as well as all the patrons who witnessed a spectacular round by Jon, only to be negated by this horrible pandemic our world continues to endure.
“I wish Jon a speedy recovery and hope he gets back to competition soon.”
Rahm was accompanied by Patrick Cantlay and Scottie Scheffler for his third round having earlier completed his second round on Saturday morning, making a hole-in-one at the 16th while playing alongside Collin Morikawa and Xander Schauffele.
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Morikawa’s 66 ultimately earned him a share of the 54-hole lead with Cantlay, with both undergoing coronavirus testing before being given the all-clear to compete in the final round, although Cantlay was confident that he would not endure a second bout of the virus.
“I’ve already had COVID, so I’ve got to imagine I have antibodies, so I don’t feel too concerned,” said Cantlay, the 2019 Memorial champion. “Obviously it is somewhat of a concern, but I got to imagine that I had it earlier this year, so I’m feeling pretty okay about it.
“It’s obviously really disappointing for Jon. It’s kind of the worst situation for something like that to happen, and he played awesome today and it’s really a shame. It’s unfortunate.
“I’m sure it’s not as much of a jolt for me as it is for him. Unfortunately I guess we knew that this was a potential lurking out there even when we came back to golf. It’s just extremely unfortunate.”
Andy Levinson, the senior vice president of tournament administration at the PGA Tour, was also ushered before the media to clarify the situation regarding Rahm and his playing partners, and he insisted that all Covid-19 protocols were being adhered to.
“Any time we have a player that has become positive we’ll conduct contact tracing to establish whether or not an individual meets the definition of close contact, which is in, generally inside of six feet for 15 minutes or more,” said Levinson.
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“And if that individual is determined to be a close contact, then they would enter our contact tracing protocol, but our contact tracing protocol does allow players to continue to participate as long as they are following our testing protocol and facility restrictions.
“Patrick Cantlay and Scottie Scheffler are being interviewed by our contact tracing team this evening, and we will make a determination as to whether or not they meet that definition of close contact, and if they do, then they will take a test in the morning.”
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