Johnson's back, veterans star: golf talking points

Daniel HICKS
·4-min read
Back from Covid: World number one Dustin Johnson returns to action at the Houston Open this week

Johnson's back, veterans star: golf talking points

Back from Covid: World number one Dustin Johnson returns to action at the Houston Open this week

The final event before next week's coronavirus-delayed US Masters, and a major champion back in the winner's circle feature in AFP Sport's golf talking points:

- Houston open to fans -

With just over a week to go until the strange spectacle of an autumn US Masters, world number one Dustin Johnson will be glad to finally get back on course this week at the Houston Open.

Johnson makes his first appearance since finishing tied sixth in the US Open in September, having been forced to miss his planned Augusta warm-ups at the CJ Cup and Zozo Championship after testing positive for Covid-19.

A limited amount of spectators will be allowed this week for the first time on American soil since the US PGA Tour resumed in June.

It remains to be seen if Johnson can instantly recapture the remarkable run of form he showed before succumbing to the coronavirus. Prior to the US Open he had enjoyed four consecutive top-two finishes in three FedEx Cup playoff events and a major.

Johnson won the Northern Trust and the season-ending Tour Championship and was runner-up in the US PGA Championship and BMW Championship.

Johnson hasn't finished outside the top 10 in his last four Masters, with a best of tied second behind Tiger Woods last year, and if he successfully shakes off the rust this week could put himself in great shape for a crack at a maiden green jacket.

- Strut your Funky stuff -

The 64-year-old Fred Funk made a little history at his final hole of the Bermuda Championship second round on Friday when he chipped in for the birdie that enabled him to join golf legends Jack Nicklaus, Sam Snead and Tom Watson as the only players his age or older to make a US PGA Tour cut since 1970.

"It feels good to know you can do it," said the eight-time PGA Tour winner Funk, who turned pro in 1981 and whose career highlight was winning the Players Championship back in 2005.

He was playing with his son Taylor for the first two rounds, which made the moment even more special. 

"Not many guys even have an opportunity. It means a lot, but the biggest thing was playing with Taylor," said Funk, who represented the US in the 2004 Ryder Cup, after making it to the weekend. "The bonus was making the cut."

Taylor needed to take a leaf out of dad's book. He missed the one-over cut mark by 11 strokes. Fred went on to finish tied 59th.

- Win and tonic for Clarke -

Talking of veterans, 52-year-old Darren Clarke lifted his first trophy on Sunday since the Claret Jug, when he won his maiden PGA Tour Champions title.

The 2011 Open Championship at Royal St Georges on England's south-east coast must have seemed a long time ago for the popular 52-year-old, who ended his win drought at the TimberTech Championship at Broken Sound in Florida.

But Clarke admitted his celebrations might be a tad more sensible than nine years ago.

"Well, the last victory I had I was drunk for a week, so this time I won't be," said Clarke, who revealed that instead would soon be embarking on a new fitness regime.

"I'm going back to the Bahamas now and I'll have a week off. Then I've got another big programme. My weight fluctuates up and down and, when I get to a certain point, enough's enough. 

"I've got my trainer, so I'll have a week's bit of fun and then I'm back in the gym full time."

But Clarke fans fear not, the genial northern Irishman, famed for liking a pint of Guinness or three, isn't going totally teetotal.

"It may not be that many sea breezes," Clarke said with a smile. "It may be more gin and tonics. Less calories in gin and tonics."

- World rankings -

Top 10s, week beginning November 2, 2020 (change from last week in brackets):

Men

1. Dustin Johnson (USA) 10.37 

2. Jon Rahm (ESP) 10.24 

3. Justin Thomas (USA) 9.12 

4. Collin Morikawa (USA) 7.52 

5. Rory McIlroy (NIR) 7.51 

6. Bryson DeChambeau (USA) 7.45 

7. Xander Schauffele (USA) 7.21 

8. Webb Simpson (USA) 7.06

9. Patrick Cantlay (USA) 6.37

10. Tyrrell Hatton (ENG) 6.32

Women

1. Ko Jin-young  (KOR) 7.97 

2. Kim Sei-young (KOR) 6.87 

3. Nelly Korda (USA) 6.59 

4. Danielle Kang (USA) 6.40 

5. Park In-bee (KOR) 6.18 (-1) 

6. Nasa Hataoka (JPN) 5.91 

7. Brooke Henderson (CAN) 5.77 

8. Park Sung-hyun (KOR) 5.23 

9. Minjee Lee (AUS) 5.06 

10. Kim Hyo-joo (KOR) 4.81 (+1)

dh/th