It’s doubtful many players have ever withdrawn from a PGA Tour event prior to a third round in which they were in the top five of the tournament, but that’s what Branden Grace was forced to do on Saturday at the Barracuda Championship. Grace had to withdraw because he tested positive for COVID-19. It knocks him out of both this tournament, where he was T2 after 36 holes, and next week’s PGA Championship, where he was among the dark horses to contend at the season’s only major.
Grace was tied with Matthias Schwab and Robert Streb at +20, two points back of leader Kyle Stanley. The event is played based on the Stableford format, which is why +20 is actually a good score instead of one that sends you packing on Friday evening.
The fear all along for the PGA Tour is that COVID-19 would affect a tournament while that tournament was being played, and this is the first time we’ve seen somebody near the lead on the weekend of an event have to withdraw according to PGA Tour protocol. He will now enter a 10-day self-isolation period.
“I felt great all week,” said Grace in a statement. “Last night, I was tired and thought it had to do with the altitude. This morning, I notified the PGA Tour about my symptoms before going to the golf course. I wanted to get tested out of respect for my peers and everyone involved with the tournament. While it is unfortunate given my position on the leaderboard, the most important thing is our health.”
The key here is that Grace didn’t have to notify the PGA Tour about his symptoms. That’s paramount in limiting the spread of the virus and keeping the sport rolling. The PGA Tour and its players have done a good job of tightening up protocol since a mini-outbreak at the Travelers Championship a month ago, and this is the first major incident since that time.
Grace has two top-five finishes in the last five PGA Championships.