Ben Coley on the loss of The Masters and the likelihood of more to come

TV cameras turned off at Sawgrass

As recently as Tuesday, the PGA Tour continued on its merry way. This was PLAYERS week, and it would take much more than a deadly pandemic to burst this bubble. No, sir: the only water poured on golf would come via its officials, onto its fairways. Wash your hands, but be sure not to clean your balls.

By Thursday, reality was setting in, and it became clear that the PGA Tour's leadership would have to follow that of other sports. The question was, could they wait until Monday? Full marks, at least, for trying. Commissioner Jay Monahan first revealed that spectators would not be allowed in for the final three rounds, but before the first was completed, the tournament was cancelled.

The Masters is not operated by the PGA Tour, rather the members of Augusta National, whose chairman Fred Ridley revealed on Friday that the first major of the men's season would be postponed. Talk afterwards was of a potential October date, perhaps after the Ryder Cup. I can't help but feel that this is all a little wishful.

First, though, let's deal with what lies in golf's more immediate future. There is a European Tour event scheduled for April 30, in Spain, but hopes are slim that it will take place. On Friday, a state of emergency was declared as the death toll there passed 100, forcing prime minister Pedro Sanchez to declare a state of emergency. It is expected that cases will pass 10,000 by the end of the week.

With Portugal's problems escalating, the following week's GolfSixes seems another likely casualty, and that takes us to Denmark on May 21. Several countries have banned trips to and from Denmark, where schools and universities are among those public places to be closed for two weeks. Royal celebrations scheduled to run from April to June have already been cancelled. It seems unlikely that the European Tour, with members from all corners of the globe, will be welcomed to Himmerland.

Suddenly we are at the Irish Open, the first Rolex Series event. Ireland is in lockdown, with outdoor gatherings of more than 500 people put on hold. Time is on their side, but we should not underestimate the diversity of the European Tour, and how complicated its return is likely to prove. Nor should we underestimate for just how long the impact of the coronavirus is likely to be felt.

All of which places The Open Championship in real jeopardy.

As of today, it is four months until play is set to begin at Royal St George's, and the British government consider themselves one month behind Italy in terms of the spread of the virus. It's difficult to look at the situation in Italy today and believe with any degree of confidence that they would be fit to stage a golf tournament and its 200,000 spectators in fewer than a hundred days; nor should we expect Britain to be ready to do so in July.

Earlier this week, health secretary Matt Hancock made two things abundantly clear: that the worst is yet to come, and that cases are expected to continue to rise well into summer. "We do not expect numbers to peak in the next fortnight," he told parliament. "We expect numbers to continue to rise after that and the peak would be after a matter of a couple of months, rather than in a matter of a couple weeks. This is a marathon and not a sprint."

Given that the UK government's response to the spreading of coronavirus has been less significant than others, there is a case to argue that business as usual may be encouraged. And yet, more likely is that as England's cricketers return from Sri Lanka, the Premier League is put on hold, the London Marathon postponed, the R&A will be unable to pursue a course which ends in someone succeeding Shane Lowry this July.

In May, both the Irish Open and the Mizuno Open, the latter held in Japan, offer up places in the field. So do the Trophee Hassan (Morocco), the Canadian Open, and the Korean Open, in June. And there's regional qualifying, currently scheduled to take place at 13 venues across the UK and Ireland in the middle of that month. It seems unthinkable that all of these events will go ahead as planned, and while the field can be filled in any number of ways, it may not matter.

The Masters is the first men's major, and was the first to be postponed. The Open is the last, but it still does not appear to have enough time on its side. On the balance of the forecasts being given, the steps being taken by other sports, we should not be anything more than hopeful that this season can be salvaged. It's possible that the next major tournament is The Masters all right - but in April, 2021.

All of this feeds into a problem that will surely be under discussion in European Tour conference calls: what to do with its current members, and its system of recycling and reordering them.

At the end of the season, only those in the top 110 on the Race To Dubai - once the odd weed has been removed - keep their cards for the next. It is unthinkable that such career-defining outcomes could be actioned in a season ravaged by unforeseen circumstances. Last year, Hugo Leon missed his card by six points after 21 starts; those trying to avoid such a fate must be given an opportunity to do so.

One option would be for the European Tour to cancel this year's Qualifying School. To do so would be to deny a group of players the chance to earn their cards, but that may be necessary to enable the Race To Dubai cut-off to be extended by 25 places. Should the Challenge Tour struggle to piece together a schedule, perhaps it will be necessary to pause all promotion and relegation and start again next season.

Of course, all of this feels a little incidental, in light of the very real crisis faced by people all around the world. And yet, sport is so much a part of so many lives that it does matter. It is not wrong to bemoan the loss of The Masters. Just be prepared for more still to come.

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