The DP World Tour’s inaugural event was cut short on Saturday amid weather and fears of a new COVID-19 variant.
The Joburg Open was abandoned after 36 holes due to bad weather in South Africa on Saturday. The event had already been cut back to just 54 holes on Friday amid fears of the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus.
So, with play ending after two rounds, South Africa’s Thriston Lawrence was crowned the winner.
"It's so surreal," he said, via the DP World Tour. "I don't think anyone thought it would turn out this way, to finish on a Saturday afternoon but I'm just really thankful. It's a life-changing moment for me.
"It's a lifelong dream that has come true. Unbelievable golf these last few days … It's been a goal, you want to see yourself up there but the last year and a half of COVID it's been tough so you sort of see your dreams fade. For it to change this week is unbelievable."
Play had started in the third round briefly, but heavy rain and lightning made the course essentially unplayable.
Lawrence held a four shot lead when the event was called. Zander Lombard finished in second at 8-under, and both Ashley Chesters and Shaun Norris tied for third.
Joburg Open shortened amid COVID fears
The inaugural season of the DP World Tour — which was rebranded from the old European Tour last offseason — kicked off Thursday with the Joburg Open in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Yet by Thursday night and Friday morning, more than a dozen golfers had withdrawn from the tournament after the United Kingdom, United States and several other countries restricted travel and flights from South Africa and seven other southern African nations.
The decision came after a new coronavirus variant in the region was deemed “of concern” by the World Health Organization. The Omicron variant, similar to the Delta variant, has since been detected in several countries across the globe.
“I’ve decided that we’re going to be cautious,” President Joe Biden said Friday when discussing the travel restrictions, via The New York Times. “We don’t know a lot about the variant except that it is a great concern and seems to spread rapidly.”
When players learned of the impending restrictions, many quickly made plans to leave the country. The tournament has said that players who did so will not face any sanctions.
“I’d three holes to finish in my first round, and when I came in I turned my phone on and I had messages from everyone asking me if I was going to go to the airport or stay and play. That’s when I started to look into it,” Irish golfer Paul Dunne told RTE Radio on Friday. He later withdrew and planned to fly to Dubai.
“I think a few people are on the course without kind of a real idea of what’s going on,” he added, “but some people are finding it hard. I’ve heard people can’t get a flight until Sunday evening. The only flights available are through Ethiopia and I think with the [ongoing conflict] in Ethiopia nobody fancies traveling through there either. Bit of a minefield at the minute."
The U.S. averaged just more than 87,000 new cases of the coronavirus on Friday, according to The New York Times, and about 71% of American adults are fully vaccinated. The U.S. has not yet detected a case of the Omicron strain, though Dr. Anthony Fauci said Friday that “It’s not going to be possible to keep this infection out of the country.”