Bushfire smoke swamping a golf tournament in Australia forced one player to don a face mask and another to complain of burning eyes and coughing fits.
Deadly fires first broke out in New South Wales several weeks ago and continue to blaze across the state as the Australian summer approaches.
New Zealander Ryan Chisnall, who suffers from asthma, struggled to breathe in the conditions at the Australian Open in Sydney and was handed a mask by a spectator midway through his first round.
“I don’t know if (the mask) helped, but I gave it a whirl for a bit and tried it out,” Chisnall, who shot one under par, was quoted as saying in the Sydney Morning Herald. “I was always going to just keep going.
“It’s pretty bruising. It’s an emotional roller coaster and you go through ups and downs. Physically I feel fine. It’s just the constant cough. By the end of the day the head starts to hurt a little bit because you’re coughing so much.”
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As of Thursday, the New South Wales Rural Fire Service reported 117 bushfires still burning across the region, 60 of which remain uncontained.
The air quality at the Australian Golf Club was deemed good as play got under way, but it deteriorated throughout the day as wind blew smoke across the course.
“I’m not sure what the forecast is, but the smoke’s not good at all,” said Australian Matt Jones, who finished tied for second on four under.
“It’s tough to see your golf ball when you’re out there playing, where it finishes. Your eyes do burn. I’ve got that cough like you’ve got something in your lungs, phlegm in your lungs or whatever, but it’s not fun.
“I hope my kids are inside the hotel room.”
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World No. 14 Paul Casey, the highest-ranked golfer in the field, downplayed the impact the conditions had on his game.
“It was tough out there, but I feel more for those who are right next to the fires,” the Englishman told reporters.
“So you’re not going to hear me complain about it. Apart from stinging eyes it had no effect on our golf.”
Chinese Taipei’s Yu Chun-an and Japan’s Takumi Kanaya – both amateurs – share the lead on six under par after the first day in Sydney.
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Head of Golf Australia, Stephen Pitt, had said before the tournament that the outlook was “really optimistic,” adding organizers would continue to monitor conditions.