LONDON: World number one Dustin Johnson makes his return to the PGA Tour after being diagnosed with COVID-19 last month, headlining a packed field at the Houston Open, which begins on Thursday and offers players a final tune-up before the Masters.
Four-time major winner Brooks Koepka, returning champion Lanto Griffin, five-time major winner Phil Mickelson and 2013 Masters winner Adam Scott are among the contenders descending on the newly-refurbished Memorial Park Golf Course, the tournament's new venue.
Johnson, who won the Tour Championship to claim his first-ever FedExCup title in September and then finished tied for sixth at the U.S. Open, said he returned to practice last Monday after missing two tournaments he had expected to play.
"For me it was very mild and obviously I'm very thankful for that," the 36-year-old American told reporters on Wednesday. "It definitely puts a wrench in your plans on what you were trying to do."
The 2016 US Open winner is among the favourites to win the Masters at Augusta, which is being played without fans and starts on Nov 12 after being delayed from April, its traditional spot on the calendar, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Koepka, who along with fellow American Xander Schauffele finished in a tie for second with Johnson at last year's Masters, said that he was looking forward to a handful of fans attending the Houston Open, a rarity in the COVID-19 era.
"As players, we become accustomed to having so many people out there watching, cheering," said Koepka, twice winner of the PGA Championship and the US Open.
"It makes you feel good when you make birdie, eagle, whatever, great par save, great shot, anything. But it definitely is a different feel, it's weird. I'm anxious to have fans back."