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AP photo by Ryan Kang / Tiger Woods tees off on the 18th hole Riviera Country Club during the second round of the PGA Tour's Genesis Invitational on Feb. 14 in Los Angeles.

The PGA Tour is set to return this week after a three-month layoff, and some of its biggest stars are ready to play.

The 148-man field for the Charles Schwab Challenge — which starts Thursday at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas — will include the current top five in the World Golf Ranking: Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas and Dustin Johnson.

Tiger Woods, who is ranked 11th but remains the biggest name in golf, chose not to play. The 44-year-old Woods, the 15-time major champion with a record-tying 82 PGA Tour wins, has played the tournament at Colonial only once — in 1997, when he was going for his third straight victory and shot 72 in the final round to finish three shots behind.

The PGA Tour shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic after the opening round of The Players Championship on March 12.

The return requires players to be tested for the coronavirus upon arrival and, for those taking a charter flight to the next tournament — the RBC Heritage in Hilton Head, South Carolina — another test before they leave. They also will have daily thermal readings and health questionnaires, a regulation that also applies to caddies and others whom PGA Tour officials deem essential personnel.

As for star power at Colonial, the competition will include 18 of the top 25 golfers in the world, giving it a strength-of-field comparable to a World Golf Championship. The only players from the top 10 who are not playing are Adam Scott, Patrick Cantlay and Tommy Fleetwood. Scott and Fleetwood live outside of the United States and would have faced a 14-day quarantine upon arrival.

Cantlay has played Colonial only twice, including his rookie year in 2013 when he first felt a jolt of pain in his back that kept him out of golf for nearly three years.

The field also includes all three former Baylor School golfers currently on the PGA Tour: Harris English, who is No. 24 in the FedEx Cup standings, plus Keith Mitchell (75th) and Luke List (124th).

If all goes according to plan, the PGA Tour will keep a full schedule for the rest of the year. The Charles Schwab Challenge marks the first of 27 tournaments over a 26-week period through Dec. 6, a stretch that will includes three majors: the PGA Championship on Aug. 6-9, the U.S. Open on Sept. 17-20 and the Masters on Nov. 12-15.

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AP photo by Tony Gutierrez / Harris English reacts to his opening tee shot during the 2016 PGA Championship at Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, N.J. English made the cut in all four major championships that year.

Gallery allowed

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine approved a plan for Muirfield Village Golf Club to have at least some fans for the Memorial Tournament in July, which would make it the first PGA Tour event with spectators since the shutdown.

DeWine announced the decision Friday, posting on Twitter that casinos, racinos, amusement parks and water parks will be able to open June 19.

"In addition, we received safety plans for the Memorial Golf Tournament to be held July 13-19," he wrote. "We are approving that plan."

The Charles Schwab Challenge and the RBC Heritage are to be followed by the Travelers Championship in Cromwell, Connecticut, and the Rocket Mortage Classic in Detroit. The PGA Tour said fans will not be allowed at any of those events, the plan it originally had after the first round of The Players Championship before soon reversing course and shutting down entirely.

The John Deere Classic was the first possibility for fans until tournament officials decided to cancel this year's event. It was replaced by another tournament, also to be held at Muirfield Village, only without spectators.

Officials for the Memorial — the tournament founded by record-setting 18-time major champion Jack Nicklaus, an Ohio native — said they would have more details later.

In a prepared statement, they praised DeWine and his staff and said they would work with state, county and city leaders to use the tournament "as an example of how public gathering events can be developed and implemented with approved and accepted protocols in place"

Dan Sullivan, the tournament director, had been planning on different scenarios on returning from the pandemic depending on state and local governments. He told the Greater Columbus Sports Commission last month about inserting chips into tournament badges to know how many people are congregating in different areas of the golf course.

DeWine said the Memorial, parks and casinos "have come up plans that reduce the number of people, provide for sanitation, and in some cases, provide for one-way traffic.

"They are elaborate plans that we believe are consistent with protecting the public," DeWine wrote on Twitter.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott recently approved another level of returning to social activities and business that would allow outdoor events, such as the Charles Schwab Challenge, up to 50% capacity.

PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan told The Associated Press in a phone interview earlier Friday that the tour was sticking to its plan of no spectators the first five weeks of the return.

"We've developed a safety plan that doesn't include spectators. That's what we stand by," Monahan said. "We want to have a sustained return. If you think about a run to go through the FedEx Cup, we want to make sure week to week we're not taking on unnecessary risk."

The PGA Tour said in a prepared statement that DeWine's announcement was a "positive step" to a gradual approach of allowing limited spectators at tournaments.

"We very much look forward to the return of spectators on a limited basis at the Memorial Tournament," the statement read.

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AP photo by Tony Avelar / PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan follows his drive from the ninth tee of the Monterey Peninsula County Club's Shore Course during the first round of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am on Feb. 6 in Pebble Beach, Calif.

Commissioner's thoughts

Monahan went from wondering if any golf would be played this year to a schedule that resumes next week with a calendar filled through Thanksgiving.

What hasn't changed is his belief that the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic isn't over just because golf is back.

"I don't think it's over," Monahan said Friday. "I'm really confident in the plan. But you spend a lot of your time, given the uncertainty, thinking through scenarios that could play out. That's what we'll continue to do. We won't be comfortable until we're told we can be comfortable. That will be when we have a vaccine and there's no risk."

The PGA Tour will be the second major sports league to return. The first was NASCAR, which resumed competition in mid-May, ran nine national series races in a span of 14 days and continues to add to its updated schedule.

"We've developed a safety plan that doesn't include spectators. That's what we stand by," Monahan said. "We want to have a sustained return. If you think about a run to go through the FedEx Cup, we want to make sure week to week we're not taking on unnecessary risk."

Monahan said he is "not the arbiter of confidence," rather it comes from guidance of health experts at all levels and a plan that involves testing players, caddies and essential personnel as much as twice a week while trying to create a bubble for the traveling circus that is golf.

"It's the only manner we could return," he said.

The tour added another layer this past week in a deal with South Dakota-based Sanford Health to have mobile labs at every tournament, with capacity to get results in a matter of hours without taking away resources from the markets where they play.

Monahan said CBS Sports is creating its own bubble for the telecast, with Jim Nantz the only person in the booth and other analysts working remotely.

Ninety days will have passed from the opening round of The Players Championship, which was canceled the next day, until the first tee shot at Colonial.

The pandemic is not the only talking point as golf tries to get back on track. On Friday, the PGA Tour posted Monahan's letter to staff and players on the nation's civil unrest, a letter the AP first reported about on Tuesday. He had a 10-minute video conversation with Harold Varner III, one of three current PGA Tour members of black heritage, who wrote passionately on social media about George Floyd, the black man who was killed on May 25 in Minneapolis when a white police officer held a knee to the back of his head while he was handcuffed.

The conversation was scheduled before the protests related to Floyd's death began, and Varner was chosen because he's on the Player Advisory Council and golf was ready to resume.

"We'll be talking about COVID and civil and social unrest for some time," Monahan said Friday. "Next week will not be an exception on that front."

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