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Dustin Johnson makes COVID-19 return in tuneup for Masters

Dustin Johnson checks his notes on the fifth green during the third round of the U.S. Open on Sept. 19, 2020.
Dustin Johnson checks his notes on the fifth green during the third round of the U.S. Open on Sept. 19 in his last competition before he tested positive for the coronavirus.
(John Minchillo / Associated Press)

A six-week break going into the Masters was not what Dustin Johnson had in mind. He wasn’t expecting to test positive for the coronavirus and still wonders how it happened.

Johnson did find one positive to being the most prominent golfer to recover from COVID-19. Under CDC guidelines followed by the PGA Tour, he won’t have to be tested for three months.

“I know I’m playing next week at the Masters,” Johnson said Wednesday, adding that he would be “nervous for sure” if he had had to wait for the test results before setting foot on Augusta National.

“I had no idea where I got it from,” he said. “I thought about it and tried to figure it out. I had every person that I had been around, every single one of them got tests. Not one person had it. The only thing I can figure is I got in Vegas. I don’t even know how I got it there.“

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That forced him to miss the CJ Cup at Shadow Creek and the Zozo Championship at Sherwood, a course where he is a member. And it cost him time in preparing for the final major of the year. He was among those who finished one shot behind Tiger Woods last year at the Masters.

Johnson was coming off a strong run of being runner-up at the PGA Championship, winning by 11 shots at the TPC Boston, losing to a 65-foot birdie putt in a playoff with Jon Rahm at Olympia Fields and winning the FedEx Cup. He then tied for sixth in the U.S. Open at Winged Foot on Sept. 20.

That was his last competition until he tees off Thursday in the Houston Open.

Johnson is among 37 players at the Houston Open who are playing in the Masters — assuming they pass their tests for the coronavirus — while eight Masters champions are playing in the PGA Tour Champions event in Phoenix.

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Also playing in Houston this week are Brooks Koepka for only the second time since August because of injuries, Jordan Spieth and Tyrrell Hatton of England, who has risen to No. 10 in the world.

For Johnson, it’s a matter of playing catch-up.

“My health is good,” he said. “The state of my game is undetermined.”

He went two weeks from testing positive for the virus before he picked up a club again, which was a week ago Monday, and even that session didn’t last very long because he had been away from golf for two weeks. That’s rare for someone trying to get his game in top form for the Masters.

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A Native American version of golf is gaining popularity on the Navajo Nation reservation, where duffers play on ‘browns,’ not greens.

Being isolated in Las Vegas sounded as if it were tougher than recovering from COVID-19.

“It wasn’t that bad as far as I didn’t get really sick,” he said. “I felt like I had a cold for a few days so I was pretty much asymptomatic — a little fatigue and things like that, but I couldn’t really figure out if that was because I was stuck in a hotel room for 11 days not doing anything or it was COVID that made me feel that way.

“It was one of those things, too, I was like waiting to get sick because you know you have it, and you’re sitting there. But for me, it was mild and I’m very thankful for that.”

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Johnson managed to keep his No. 1 ranking and joins Woods, Greg Norman and Rory McIlroy as the only players to have been at the top of the ranking for 100 weeks or more.

He is used to that by now. What means far more is adding to his lone major title from the 2016 U.S. Open at Oakmont. Consider this week a crash course to get ready for Augusta.

“If I hit a couple good shots, I’ll be happy,” Johnson said. “It’s more about just getting some reps and playing and practicing and getting ready for next week. Obviously, I’ve had way more time off than I wanted coming into Augusta.”


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