Golf: Top-ranked Johnson returns after back injury layoff

Dustin Johnson plays a shot from the 18th tee during the Pro-Am for the Wells Fargo Championship.
Dustin Johnson plays a shot from the 18th tee during the Pro-Am for the Wells Fargo Championship.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (AFP) - World number one Dustin Johnson, who withdrew from the Masters after injuring his back on the eve of the year's first major, returns to competition on Thursday (May 4) at the Wells Fargo Championship.

The 32-year-old American, who defends his first major title at next month's US Open, declared himself fit Wednesday and ready to stretch a win streak that has seen him capture his past three PGA starts.

"Really good. Healthy. So I can't complain," Johnson said. "I haven't played much or done a whole lot of practicing, but my body is all good so I'm glad to be back playing again."

Johnson's Masters hopes were left in ruins after he slipped and fell down a short flight of stairs at a rental house in Augusta on the night before the tournament.

He eventually pulled out just before his scheduled tee time in the final first-round group.

Johnson had been a heavy favorite to capture the green jacket symbolic of Masters supremacy after winning at Riviera in February to claim the world number one ranking. He backed that up with World Golf Championships Mexico and Match-Play triumphs.

"I was on a good roll, playing the best golf of my career going into Augusta," Johnson said. "Definitely had a lot more time off than I really would like to have had."

Johnson said it took him longer to recover than he expected, not really shaking off the effects of the April 5 lower back injury until last Friday.

"It took about three weeks," Johnson said. "Last Friday was the first day I've probably hit balls and didn't feel it.

"It was just bruised badly. I went and had an MRI. It was clear. No issues. I just bruised it really bad."

While he took part in a Wednesday morning pro-am event, Johnson says he remains unsure how his swing will be when he returns to competition.

"Still feel like I'm swinging really well. Hit a few good shots out there today," Johnson said. "But we'll just have to see. Haven't played many rounds and definitely haven't played any competitive rounds since six weeks ago."

The event, typically played at Quail Hollow in Charlotte, was switched to another North Carolina course, Eagle Point in Wilmington, because Quail Hollow will host this year's final major tournament, the PGA Championship, in August.

"It's in perfect condition," Johnson said. "When the wind picks up it's going to be very challenging."

Also in the field is 11th ranked Adam Scott, the former world number one who won the 2013 Masters. The 36-year-old Australian had his best finish of the US PGA season at Augusta National, sharing ninth.

"Played well at the Masters but unfortunately on the last day was out of sorts and wasn't able to challenge for the jacket," Scott said. "I feel like the game has come into good shape."

Scott warned that the event is more than a mere tuneup for The Players Championship next week in Florida.

"The way the greens are, if you don't have major-level concentration out there you can get into trouble very quickly," Scott said. "It will be a good week to test exactly where your game is at."