By Frank Pingue

(Reuters) – The Masters, which brings together the world’s best golfers in April for the year’s first major, has been postponed because of concerns about the coronavirus, Augusta National Golf Club said on Friday.

People from all over the world attend the Masters at Augusta National, which this year was scheduled for April 9-12, and the club said it hopes the postponement will allow it to host the event safely at a later date.

“Unfortunately, the ever-increasing risks associated with the widespread Coronavirus COVID-19 have led us to a decision that undoubtedly will be disappointing to many, although I am confident is appropriate under these unique circumstances,” Augusta National Chairman Fred Ridley said in a statement.

The decision to postpone the event comes a day after the PGA Tour canceled this week’s Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, and all events through April 5.

“I’m bummed,” world number four Justin Thomas said at TPC Sawgrass. “Selfishly I want to play, but this is way, way beyond that. You have to take a lot of other factors and measures into consideration here.”

The Masters has been played continuously since its inception in 1934 — except during World War Two when it was canceled from 1943-45. If it is held this year it would mark the first time it has been played outside March or April.

Augusta National, the only permanent home for one of golf’s four majors, typically closes in late May to protect the course from the Georgia summer heat and does not reopen until October.

“That’s my favorite tournament of the year, so I obviously have hopes that we’ll get to play it,” said Thomas. “I don’t care if it’s 25 degrees and nobody is there, I’m going to go play it with a chance to win the Masters.”

‘SOME LATER DATE’

Ridley also said the Augusta National Women’s Amateur and the three-pronged junior skills competition known as the Drive, Chip and Putt competition that all lead into the Masters have also been postponed.

“Ultimately, the health and well-being of everyone associated with these events and the citizens of the Augusta community led us to this decision,” said Ridley.

“We hope this postponement puts us in the best position to safely host the Masters Tournament and our amateur events at some later date.”

Tiger Woods is the defending Masters champion after snapping an 11-year wait for his 15th major title when he came from behind to win by one shot last April.

“Postponed is a comforting word. Canceled is another,” Xander Schauffele, who tied for second place at last year’s Masters, said at TPC Sawgrass.

“As long as it says postponed, I think the players will find hope in that word and just wait for go time.”

(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Kevin Liffey/ Toby Davis/Pritha Sarkar)

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