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Golfer Dustin Johnson makes return at Torrey Pines after personal leave

Dustin Johnson says he is happy to be back as he makes his first PGA start at Torrey Pines since taking leave

Dustin Johnson hasn't said much lately, but he said Thursday it was good to be back.

Johnson is making his first PGA start since taking a leave of absence in July to deal with personal issues.

He played the South Course at Torrey Pines and was two-over through 17 holes before Thursday play was suspended.

"Yeah, it was good," Johnson said. "A little rusty. I played OK."

Johnson did end his day with a birdie on his last hole.

He has not played since missing the cut at the Canadian Open in July.

"I just wanted to have a solid round," Johnson said Thursday.

He has denied reports he was suspended for cocaine use, telling a few selected media outlets before the Farmers Open he had an alcohol problem.

Johnson is an eight-winner on the PGA Tour. He recently had a baby with Paulina Gretzky, the daughter of hockey icon Wayne Gretzky.

Si.com recently reported Johnson and Wayne Gretzky have been playing six days a week at Sherwood Country Club, and that Johnson recently set the club record with a 61.

He won't match that score in his first round at Torrey Pines.

"I still played all right," he said. "I missed a handful of short putts, but overall it wasn't bad."

In Tiger's wake

What's it like playing with Tiger Woods?

Not easy. Rickie Fowler and Billy Horschel were Woods' playing partners Thursday.

Despite his recent slump, Woods' presence at a tournament still draws huge crowds, especially since he doesn't play many West Coast tournaments.

Fowler and Horschel were part of the drama as Woods fought his game and the back spasms that forced him to withdraw after 11 holes.

Fowler shot three-under 69 while Horschel finished at even-par 72.

Horschel said he was not distracted by the crowds.

"Tiger's very graceful out there in the sense he doesn't allow the circus that surrounds him to affect his playing competitors," Horschel said. "I think Rickie and I played well with everything that was thrown at us today."

Fowler said he wasn't aware Woods was seriously hurting. He said Woods did not complain about his back.

"Obviously, he was not able to jump around and do jumping jacks or anything like that," Fowler said. "He was ginger at times, but he wasn't out there saying his back hurt."

Horschel, the defending FedEx Cup champion, and Fowler are no golfing slouches, but Horschel did notice how many fans left their group after Woods had to withdraw.

"We went from 600 to 700 people watching us to 50," Horschel said. "So we became chopped liver. We realized where we stand in this game of golf and we had a good joke about it."

More on the Thompsons

Nicholas Thompson's eight-under 64 equaled his career low on the PGA Tour.

He came three shots short of tying the Farmers Insurance record on the North Course. That belongs to Brandt Snedeker, who shot 11-under 61 in the opening round of 2007.

Thompson said he usually struggles on the North Course.

"I mean you just never know," he said. "I mean it was in such good condition and the best I've seen in my seven times here."

Michael Thompson, also playing the North, recorded eight birdies and one bogey to stay one behind at seven-under 65. Thompson's only other round in the 60s was a 69 in round one of his first Farmers start in 2011.

Repeatable?

Defending Farmers champion Scott Stallings opened with a two-under 70 on the North Course. He is trying to become the first back-to-back winner since Woods won four straight starting in 2005.

chris.dufresne@latimes.com

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