Humana notes: DJ back earlier than expected
LA QUINTA, Calif. – Dustin Johnson originally planned to make his PGA Tour return at next week’s Farmers Insurance Open. Johnson, who had knee surgery in November, will make his return at the Humana Challenge instead, adding star power to a tournament on the rise.
Johnson had surgery in late November to repair cartilage in his right knee. He committed to the Humana after learning he would be in the California desert for a commercial shoot this past Sunday. He worked with instructor Butch Harmon on Monday in Las Vegas.
Johnson, the No. 8 player in the Official World Golf Ranking, hasn’t played the Humana since finishing 66th in 2009. He’s the first top-10 player at the Humana since Phil Mickelson in 2007. Mickelson also is in this week’s field, his first appearance since a final-round 78 at the 2007 Humana at the Classic Club, which is no longer used in the tournament.
Thursday’s first round will be his first time walking 18 holes since the surgery.
“My swing is as good as it’s ever been, and it’s mostly because the knee’s healthier and strong again,” Johnson said. “(The right knee) was just a little bit weak. I couldn’t swing just right.”
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This year’s Humana field is the strongest in years, according to the Official World Golf Ranking. The winner is scheduled to earn 44 OWGR points (barring any WDs), the most thus far this PGA Tour season. Johnson Wagner earned 42 points for his Sony Open victory last week, and Steve Stricker earned 38 for winning the season-opening Hyundai Tournament of Champions.
Jhonattan Vegas earned 32 points for his victory at last year’s Humana, two more than Bill Haas earned for his 2010 victory.
There are 12 top-50 players in this week’s field, including four among the top 25. It was just two years ago that Mike Weir, at the time No. 37 in the world ranking, was the highest-ranked player in the field.
Johnson (No. 8 in the OWGR), Matt Kuchar (11), Mickelson (15) and Haas (24) are the field’s highest-ranked players.
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It’s hard to say no to a former president, even if you’re a former No. 1 player in the world. Greg Norman couldn’t refuse when his good friend, former President Bill Clinton, asked him to play the Humana Challenge.
“I’m here for one particular reason,” Norman said. “I got a phone call, and a phone call I could never say no to.”
Norman made just one previous appearance at this event, finishing T-53 in 1986. Norman and Clinton are scheduled to play together Saturday.
Norman hasn’t played a regular PGA Tour event since missing the cut at the 2009 Open Championship. He played the Australian PGA (T-23) and Australian Open (T-53) late in 2011.
The Humana won’t be Norman’s only PGA Tour appearance this year. He said he will play the Mayakoba Golf Classic on Feb. 23-26 and is leaning toward playing the Honda Classic on March 1-4 near his South Florida home.
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Anthony Kim, a three-time PGA Tour winner, has fallen to No. 84 in the world, but his presence is still something for the Humana Challenge to be proud of. Kim, a La Quinta High School graduate, has skipped the past three Humanas in spite of his hometown ties.
Kim tied for third in his last Humana appearance, in 2008. He was in town during last year’s event, but opted not to play.
Kim contended at last year’s Open Championship, finishing T-5, but it was one of just two PGA Tour top-10s in 2011.
“2011 was a year that I would like to forget very soon,” Kim said, “but I learned a lot about myself, learned a lot about perseverance and grinding through those tough times.”
Kim hasn’t won on the PGA Tour since the 2010 Shell Houston Open, but his game appears to be on an upswing. He had three top-3 finishes during a late-season tour of Asia. He lost a playoff to Rory McIlroy at the Shanghai Masters, then finished third in K.J. Choi’s CJ Invitational and the Barclays Singapore Open.
Some time off did the trick.
“I took a month off," Kim said. "I started practicing the day before I left for Asia, practiced in L.A. for one day, got on a plane, went to Korea, and hit the ball as good as I’ve hit it all year."