GOLF NEWS - World number one Rory McIlroy says his game is as sharp as possible and he feels in a safe environment as the US PGA Tour returns to competition Thursday.
After three months idled due to the coronavirus pandemic, the four-time major champion from Northern Ireland will tee off without spectators at the Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial in Fort Worth, Texas.
There will be face masks and gloves, social distancing, coronavirus tests and temperature-taking to create and maintain a "bubble" of safety for players.
"It really does feel safe. Everything at the course, everything that has been put in place for us, it has felt very robust, very safe," McIlroy said.
"There's sanitizer everywhere you look. I feel safe and I'd say basically everyone else that's here feels the same thing."
McIlroy says his game is as good as can be expected after such a long competition layoff.
"The thing I missed the most was the competition," McIlroy said. "I tried to play with high-caliber players and see where I measured up with them.
"I feel like my game is pretty sharp. I'm as sharp as I can be coming in here... the first couple of days here will be the real test. I'll learn a lot about myself and my game in those first couple of days."
With a spotlight on the first event since The Players Championship was halted after one round in March, McIlroy knows how crucial the week will be for golf and the emergence of sport in general from the COVID-19 outbreak.
"This week is very important. Golf will be the center of the sports world," he said. "For people to have something to watch on TV where they don't know the outcome, I think that will be a good thing."
McIlroy expects a strange atmosphere without fans lining the course, as spectators are not scheduled to attend a PGA event until next month at the Memorial tournament.
"It'll be a little eerie, you're not getting claps or feedback from good shots," McIlroy said. "At the same time, it's what we have to do. It's what we're going to have to live with for the forseeable future."
McIlroy reiterated, however, that he sees no chance of the Ryder Cup, set to be played in September at Whistling Straits, being contested if spectators cannot attend.
"It's either going to be played this year with fans or we'll be kicking it down the road," McIlroy predicted.
"I'm pretty sure they won't carry on without spectators. I don't think that (playing in such an event) would have to be an option that I would consider. I just can't see it going ahead without fans."
McIlroy said the rescheduling of events forced by the pandemic showed golf's global structure could use simplification.
"I don't know if everything being under one umbrella is the solution, but definitely fewer umbrellas is a way forward," McIlroy said.
"The more all these bodies can work together for the greater good of the game can only help everybody."
- Floyd moves 'wonderful' -
The greater good beyond golf was also on McIlroy's mind in the wake of two weeks of global protests over the police killing of George Floyd and the concern of racial injustice it has raised.
"I think everyone can be a little more tolerant and a little more educated and not as ignorant," McIlroy said. "The fact that it does seem to be this real will to change and have reform is amazing."
McIlroy called the decision to have a moment of silence and vacant tee time at 8:46 a.m. - to symbolize the eight minutes and 46 seconds in which a police officer kneeled on Floyd's neck - "a wonderful gesture" and noted his own golf idol was black, Tiger Woods.
"It didn't matter what color his skin was, what his beliefs were," said McIlory. "As long as we continue to give people from different backgrounds opportunities to be in golf, that can only be a good thing."