Rory McIlroy and Brooks Koepka revealed they were both in close proximity to Nick Watney shortly before he tested positive for Covid-19 on Friday.
McIlroy followed up his opening 72 with a high-quality 65 at the RBC Heritage as he made the cut with a couple of shots to spare on five under, but events on the course were overshadowed by events off it after the PGA Tour confirmed Watney had been withdrawn and must now self-isolate for at least 10 days.
The world No 1 admitted afterwards that he had chatted to Watney earlier in the day, although they were “at a distance” while Koepka, who is three strokes behind leader Webb Simpson at the halfway stage, was in the car park next to Watney as they arrived at Harbour Town Golf Links.
When asked for his reaction to the news, McIlroy said: “Nick texted me actually because we had a chat on the putting green before I went out to play, but we were at a distance.
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“He was just saying ‘look, I hope I didn’t get too close to you’. He feels badly that he was here today at the golf course. I said ‘it’s fine, you never know. If I was in your position, I probably would have been here too. Look, at this point, you just have to concentrate on getting better and getting healthy’.
“But it sucks for him especially. You know, if you contract it, that’s fine, but then it’s the fact that who have you come into contact with, and who you might have exposed and stuff.
“Look, we’re still in the middle of a pandemic. Until this thing’s over, we all just have to stay vigilant and keep your distance and wear our masks if we’re going out in public and keep washing our hands.”
McIlroy also concurred with Jordan Spieth, who had earlier said that a positive test at a PGA Tour event was only a matter of time.
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“if you look at the statistics. I read a thing today that by the end of the year, there are going to be 200,000 deaths in the US alone from Covid-19. So to think that none of us on the PGA Tour were going to get it, well I don’t think anyone thought that.
“I think the consensus was someone is going to get it at some point, and Nick’s the one that’s got it, and he’s self-isolating and doing what he has to do. It’s a shame, but the show goes on. We’ve got 36 holes to play at this tournament.”
Despite the unfortunate turn of events, McIlroy insisted he had every faith in the rigorous testing procedures in place for PGA Tour events, adding: “When I do the things I’m supposed to do and I’m at the tournament site, I feel very safe.
“Koepka bogeyed the last for a 66 and a 36-hole score of nine under shortly before play was suspended due to an approaching lightning storm, but the situation involving Watney remained the main focus in the player interview area.
“I found out when we were playing 17,” said Koepka. “I think Daniel Berger told me. He was talking to Claude Harman for half a second, and Claude said Nick had tested positive.
“So I don’t know too much about it, but I saw him this morning. I was right next to him in the parking lot.
“We’re doing what we can as far as players, and the Tour are doing what they can to make it safe for us, for everybody. We’ll see what happens. Obviously, testing us every week, and we’re filling out surveys every day.
“We’ve got to see what happens. It’s unfortunate Nick got it, but at the same time, hopefully, it stays with just him and doesn’t spread because I think we’ll have a big issue on our hands if it keeps going as the weeks continue.”