Reigning Open champion Shane Lowry was "sad and disappointed" by the R&A's decision to cancel this year's competition due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The 149th edition of the major was scheduled to start at Royal St George's on July 16 but on Monday became the latest sporting event to be called off amid the spread of COVID-19.

There have been over 47,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United Kingdom and nearly 5,000 people have died after contracting the virus.

Lowry will have to wait until 2021 to defend the Claret Jug at the course in Sandwich but feels the right decision has been made.

"Obviously, like everybody else, I'm very sad and disappointed that the R&A have had to cancel this year's Open Championship," he said in a video posted on his official Twitter account.

"At the end of the day people's health and safety come way before any golf tournament and I'm sure the R&A have thought long and hard about this and have made the decision based on everybody's health and safety.

"You can trust me when I say the Claret Jug is going to be in safe hands for another year and I look forward to seeing you all in Royal St George's in 2021."

It was reported last week that a revised calendar that would see three majors and the Ryder Cup played in the space of four months was close to being agreed.

Mike Lorenzo-Vera holds a three-shot lead in the DP World Tour Championship, while Tommy Fleetwood and Jon Rahm boosted their chances of winning the Race to Dubai title on Friday.

Lorenzo-Vera started the day with a one-shot lead ahead of Rory McIlroy after signing for an opening 63 - the lowest first round in the history of the tournament.

The Frenchman led by a mammoth seven shots on the back nine at Jumeirah Golf Estates, but his advantage over Fleetwood and Rahm was reduced to three when he bogeyed the last hole.

Lorenzo-Vera, bidding to win a first European Tour title in what is the last event of the season, is 12 under after signing for a three-under 69 on the Earth Course.

The world number 96 started with back-to-back birdies and hit the turn in 33 after further gains at the seventh and eighth holes, but a second dropped shot of his round at 15 and another at 18 mean he is not sitting quite so pretty.

Fleetwood carded a four-under 68 and is course to be crowned European number one for a second time, a seventh birdie of the day at the final hole also enhancing his prospects of winning back-to-back titles.

The Englishman, who claimed the Nedbank Golf Challenge title last weekend, was seven adrift of Lorenzo-Vera when the leader chipped for a birdie at 14, but is well poised in a share of second place with Rahm.

Rahm sunk a putt from around 12 feet for an eagle-three at 18, recovering well on the back nine after a double-bogey at the eighth.

The Spaniard and Fleetwood both know they can be crowned Race to Dubai champion if they finish solo second, provided Bernd Wiesberger fails to shoot up the leaderboard.

Austrian Wiesberger started the season finale as the man to catch and will be guaranteed to fend off the rivals chasing him down if he finishes outright second, but is joint-13th following a 71.

Shane Lowry and Matt Fitzpatrick, the other two contenders to win the Race to Dubai, are in a share of 13th and 17th respectively.

McIlroy is six shots off the lead after a disappointing 74, while Tom Lewis sits five behind Lorenzo-Vera on seven under.

Rory McIlroy shot 64 but could not keep an unwell Mike Lorenzo-Vera off top spot as the Frenchman carded the lowest opening round in the history of the DP World Tour Championship, Dubai.

World number two McIlroy, a two-time champion at Jumeirah Golf Estates, closed Thursday's play one stroke behind Lorenzo-Vera.

The pair turned in well-matched scorecards, each showing an eagle and a solitary dropped shot, but the four-time major winner sunk one birdie fewer than his rival. 

With former rugby player Niall O'Connor acting as his caddie, McIlroy went out in 31 but saved the best until last.

On the 18th hole, he nailed a stunning approach to within three feet and holed the subsequent eagle putt to conclude an excellent round.

Still it was shy of Lorenzo-Vera's effort, the world number 96 overcoming illness to earn himself a slice of history with an unmatched opening 18 holes to sit nine under.

"Honestly, I'm not feeling well at all," said Lorenzo-Vera, who has never won on the European Tour. "I have no energy. I had a big lung infection in South Africa and a big treatment and really feel bad on top of that.

"I felt that if I really relaxed a lot, just swing it like 70 per cent or maybe less, the ball was still flying pretty well. Try to be pretty clever and not too aggressive and then the putter got hot. So that worked."

Race to Dubai leader Bernd Wiesberger went round in 70 and is still projected to take the top prize based on day-one standings.

His closest rival for that honour at the start of the week, Tommy Fleetwood, dropped a couple of shots on the back nine to sign for a five-under-par 67.

Of the three other names in with a chance, Jon Rahm fared best as he got to six under, but Matt Fitzpatrick's 71 and The Open champion Shane Lowry's 73 are likely to have ended their hopes.

Tommy Fleetwood knows what it feels like to win the Race to Dubai but the pain of missing out is another motivating factor as he seeks to overhaul leader Bernd Wiesberger.

Ryder Cup star Fleetwood took the honour in 2017 and narrowly missed out on retaining his title the following year, but he is back in the mix and sits 722 points behind Wiesberger heading to the season-ending DP World Tour Championship, Dubai.

With 2000 points up for grabs at Jumeirah Golf Estates, there are three other players in contention for the crown, as Jon Rahm, Shane Lowry and Matt Fitzpatrick look to gatecrash the party.

Having ended his 22-month wait for victory by winning in Sun City last time out, Fleetwood is ready and raring to go.

"This is my third year in a row where I'm one of those players that has a chance to win the Race to Dubai. It's very special," he said.

"There's only a certain number of people that have the Race to Dubai on their resume and I'm lucky to be one of them. I think it's one of my greatest achievements and I think I have experienced both sides.

"In 2017 when I won, I led it for such a long time. In 2018, I set out and it was never a goal at the start of the year to win the Race to Dubai and all of a sudden just because it was a possibility it became something that really hurt when I didn't, but realistically, I had not thought about it all year until sort of the last few events that I had a chance.

"I just think it's important this year that I take those experiences into it and know that it still takes a lot to do it and it's not in my hands at all. I can only do my best this week, take one shot at a time."

Wiesberger has played 28 tournaments in the Race to Dubai season – 11 more than Fleetwood – and he is hoping to become the first Austrian to top the standings.

"Unfortunately, we haven't had an Austrian winner of the Race to Dubai or the overall rankings at any point," he lamented.

"Personally it would be a huge achievement for me. Growing up watching European Tour golf and watching legends like Seve [Ballesteros], [Jose Maria] Olazabal and Colin Montgomerie, who himself had won so many times in a row at the time when I started getting into golf – [that was] something that looked a long distance away, but obviously much closer now.

"We are looking forward to the next four days and going to give it everything we have, and hopefully if we count up all the points at the end of Sunday, we're still up there and it would be amazing.

"I'm very, very lucky right now in Austria with not only myself playing well this year but also Matthias [Schwab] doing a great job, and almost catching a couple titles this year."

Rory McIlroy is expecting a "fun week" after recruiting a familiar face to step in as his caddie for the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai.

After winning in Shanghai in his previous outing at the start of the month, McIlroy is back in action at the European Tour's season-ending event as he bids to finish a successful 2019 on a high.

The world number two has already won four tournaments this year and knows this week's course extremely well, having triumphed there previously in 2012 and 2015.

However, he will have to do so without the services of regular caddie Harry Diamond, who is absent following the birth of his first child. Instead, McIlroy has turned to long-time friend and former rugby player Niall O'Connor - who represented Ireland A during his career - to help him out.

"It's going to be a fun week to get out there with Niall on the bag and hopefully I can play well the first few days and we'll get into the heat of battle hopefully on the weekend and that will be something that will be fun for both of us," McIlroy said.

"I'll maybe take on a little bit more responsibility than I usually do and jot stuff down. It feels a little bit like when Harry first came on the bag a couple years ago.

"I took on a little more responsibility writing stuff in my yardage book and pacing stuff out. I actually quite enjoy that part, too.

"You know what, it will be fun. Obviously Niall and I go back a long way, so for me at this point it's just about trying to stay as relaxed and as loose as possible out there and he can definitely do that for me."

While McIlroy is chasing another title, he is not in the running to finish the year at the top of the European rankings.

Instead, five players are still battling to be crowned the Race to Dubai champion. Bernd Wiesberger leads the way but has some big-name contenders within striking distance, including Open champion Shane Lowry.

"I'm going to go out and give my best this week and no matter what happens, I will be sitting back next week with a major trophy in my cabinet this year, and I'll be happy with what I have," Lowry told the European Tour.

"But it would be incredible to add European number one to that list as well."

Lowry sits fourth in the standings, sandwiched in between Jon Rahm and Matthew Fitzpatrick. However, Tommy Fleetwood - victorious at the Nedbank Challenge last week - is the closest challenger to Austrian Wiesberger.

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