No. 1 Johnson returns after Covid-19 as Masters looms

Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth both of the United States talk together on the putting green ahead of the Houston Open at Memorial Park Golf Course on November 04, 2020 in Houston, Texas. Maddie Meyer/Getty Images/AFP

Top-ranked Dustin Johnson, who spent 11 days battling boredom in a hotel room after contracting Covid-19, returns Thursday at the PGA Houston Open while preparing for next week's Masters.

The 36-year-old American missed last month's CJ Cup and Zozo tournaments after contracting the deadly virus, halting a run of strong play and pushing him to play ahead of a major showdown at Augusta National.

"I was pleased with the way I was playing. I was very consistent and I like the way I was striking it," said Johnson, who won PGA Player of the Year honors.

"I've had way more time off than I wanted coming into Augusta and so for me it's just kind of being out here and practicing and getting some reps in because I definitely didn't plan on having this much time off."

After wins at the Northern Trust and the Tour Championship as well as a runner-up effort at the PGA Championship and a share of sixth at the US Open, Johnson was undone by the virus-forced quarantine.

"It wasn't that bad," he said. "I didn't get really sick. I felt like I had a cold for a few days and then after that I didn't. 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.

"I didn't leave the room for 11 days, I was just laying around kind of doing nothing. It was one of those things almost too I was like waiting to get sick... but for me it was very mild and obviously I'm very thankful for that."

The quarantine was tougher on Johnson than the virus, he said.

"That was more challenging than being sick. Obviously stuck in a room for 11 days is not fun," Johnson said. "I watched a lot of TV, but even then I ran out of stuff to watch. It was really boring. I didn't leave the room. The most movement I made was to the shower."

That disrupted his pre-Masters training plans.

"It definitely puts a wrench in your plans. I had a lot more time off than I was planning on," Johnson said.

"It was just over two weeks before I started practicing again. The first day I didn't hit balls for very long because I got kind of tired. Then kind of practiced a little bit more each day. It has been going pretty well so far.

"My health is good. The state of my game is undetermined."

Johnson said he does not know how he contracted Covid-19 after all of his close contacts tested negative.

Last year's Masters runner-up effort to Tiger Woods has Johnson excited about his chances this year.

"The last couple Masters I've played well and been in contention," he said. "I enjoy playing the golf course. I think it sets up well for me. I love playing in the Masters."

Koepka 'feels solid'

Johnson said being world number one has no real impact on him.

"It doesn't really feel any different," he said. "I feel like I've always had a bit of a target."

Also playing this week is Brooks Koepka, a four-time major winner who shared second at last year's Masters but who has battled hip and knee pain in 2020.

"I feel great. I feel as good as ever. Need some reps just because it feels like it has been so long," he said. "I'm physically fine. Everything feels solid and I can actually do what I want to do."