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McIlroy’s path to award gets boost

Miami—Rory McIlroy’s chances of winning a second consecutive Byron Nelson Award for low scoring were boosted Wednesday when the US PGA Tour trimmed the number of rounds needed to qualify.

Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy reacts after teeing off during round 2 of the 80th Masters Golf Tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia. AFP
The coronavirus-shortened 2019-20 season, which featured a three-month hiatus from March to June, will require only a minimum of 35 rounds instead of the usual 50.

World number two McIlroy, a four-time major winner from Northern Ireland, leads the tour this season with a 68.899 scoring average through 40 rounds as he chases a fourth career Nelson Award after 2012, 2014 and last year.

American Bryson DeChambeau ranks second on the list at 68.956 after 44 rounds.

The last player to repeat as the Nelson winner was Tiger Woods from 2005-2007.

The scoring average award is similar to the PGA of America’s Vardon Trophy, which has a 60-round minimum. The last time winners differed was 2013 when Woods won the Vardon Trophy and Stricker the Nelson award.

Law leads on European Tour’s return at crowd-free British Masters

In London, Scotland’s David Law burst to the top of the leaderboard as the European Tour returned to action at the British Masters in Newcastle.

Law began his first round at Close House with five straight pars but then birdied the next five holes in a row, produced a brilliant up and down from thick rough to save par on the 11th, and went on to birdie the 12th and 13th.

The resulting seven-under-par 64 left the 29-year-old a shot ahead of Oliver Fisher, Garrick Porteous and Renato Paratore, with 2018 winner Eddie Pepperell among those two shots further back.

The European Tour has resumed behind closed doors due to the coronavirus for the forseeable future. 

All players, caddies and officials were tested for COVID-19 before travelling to the venue and again when arriving on site, with no reported positives so far. 

Face masks are required indoors and social distancing measures observed.

“I felt a little bit violated I must say,” said Fisher of the nasal swab test. 

“It felt like he was trying to find my brain in there somewhere.”

Law had missed five cuts in seven events in 2020, including four in a row before the sport shut down due to the pandemic.

“I did not really know what to expect,” Law said. “You need to know it might not go your way this week. It’s only one round but it’s a very positive start.

“It was guilt-free time at home because there were no tournaments on that you were missing to be at home. It was a strange time but I got time at home with the family; we have a 19-month-old daughter and we’ll never get that time again.”

Despite the lack of crowds, Pepperell had one particular viewer in mind when he recovered from a slow start with four birdies in six holes from the sixth.

“I think having TV cameras there was a bit of a God-send,” Pepperell said. 

“When they’re there, you’re aware you’re on television. My mum’s watching, so I want to impress her.”

One of the most impressive rounds of the day came from former US Open champion Michael Campbell, who admitted he was “completely flabbergasted” with an opening 68.

Campbell has not made a cut on the European Tour since 2013 as he struggled with a foot injury and loss of form, but the 51-year-old New Zealander rolled back the years with the help of his caddie, his 21-year-old son Thomas. 

“My expectations were pretty much none,” Campbell said. 

“I wanted to get out here and enjoy myself with my son Thomas. When I had my success from 1999 to 2005 he was only seven, so he can’t remember.”

Tournament host Lee Westwood ended the day six shots off the lead.

Topics: Rory McIlroy , Byron Nelson Award , US PGA Tour award , COVID-19 , Face masks , Eddie Pepperell , 80th Masters Golf Tournament
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