Saturday 27 December 2014

PGA deny Dustin Johnson has been hit with drugs ban

Rumours rife as McIlroy trails Garcia in Bridgestone invitational

William S Callahan

Published 02/08/2014 | 02:30

Dustin Johnson (REUTERS/Mark Blinch)
Dustin Johnson (REUTERS/Mark Blinch)

The PGA Tour last night denied that Dustin Johnson has been hit with a six-month drugs ban, despite reports in America that the golfer had tested positive for cocaine and was to serve a suspension.

A statement from the PGA Tour read: “With regard to media reports that Dustin Johnson has been suspended by the PGA Tour, this is to clarify that Mr Johnson has taken a voluntary leave of absence and is not under a suspension from the PGA Tour.”

However, earlier yesterday respected website Golf.com reported that Johnson has failed a drug tests on three separate times: in 2009 for marijuana, in 2012 for cocaine and earlier this year again for cocaine.

Johnson said on Thursday that he was taking a leave of absence from professional golf, effective immediately.

“I will use this time to seek professional help for personal challenges I have faced,” he said in a statement issued by his management company.

Emotional

“By committing the time and resources necessary to improve my mental health, physical well-being and emotional foundation, I am confident that I will be better equipped to fulfil my potential and become a consistent champion.”

The PGA Tour was coming under increasing pressure to provide clarity as to the nature of Johnson’s “personal problems”, and if he is accused of any violations to make the fact public.

Johnson's coach Butch Harmon told Sky Sports 4 yesterday: “One of the problems that the tour has. . . is that if they do impose sanctions, they don't tell anybody about it.

“I think that's not good either so the speculation and the rumours will continue to go on. DJ has made his statement and that's pretty much all we're going to hear from him.

“As a friend of Dustin's, whatever his problems are I hope he seeks the proper help and that he can get his head on straight and get back to playing great golf again.

“Until someone in authority tells us what the deal is there is going to be a lot of speculation.”

European Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley added: “PGA Tour policy is to keep things in house and give away very few details, but it's a very risky policy because now you've gone from controlling the situation to reacting to events as they happen, which is not where you want to be.”

Johnson, who won all three of his matches at Medinah in 2012, will not contest next week's US PGA Championship at Valhalla, after which the nine automatic qualifiers for Tom Watson's team will be finalised. The 30-year-old had been fifth in the standings but has now been removed from an updated table.

Meanwhile, 34-year-old Sergio Garcia rediscovered the zest of his youth with a rip-roaring, career-low 61 yesterday at the Bridgestone Invitational.

A scintillating run of seven successive birdies and eight in all as he played the gruelling back nine at Firestone in an improbable 27 strokes suggested Garcia's long, angst-laden wait for a Major title may end in next week's US PGA at Valhalla, scene of his Ryder Cup humiliation in 2008 when he was trounced 5 & 4 by Anthony Kim.

Garcia's effort overshadowed the accomplished six-under 64 by Rory McIlroy which propelled the Open champion into a share of third on seven-under, four behind the Spaniard.

McIlroy admitted that playing behind Garcia inspired him down the stretch after a dry patch in mid-round.

“I played really well today but watching Sergio making birdie after birdie made me think I better start getting some of my own,” explained McIlroy, who opened with three straight birdies but had just one in the next 10 holes before making three in his final five.

“It was nice to get those two at 17 and

18,” added McIlroy, who needs to win tomorrow and Adam Scott, currently 12th on three-under, to finish outside the top five to return to world No 1.

With England's Justin Rose three off the pace in second after his 67, Paul McGinley's Ryder Cup plans for Gleneagles look in ripe good shape.

Yet Garcia was in a league of his own as he equalled the course record set by his friend and mentor Jose Maria Olazabal in 2000 and matched by Tiger Woods on Friday last year.

Phenomenal

He made a phenomenal sequence of 11 one-putt greens to the finish and stretched his own PGA Tour best of successive birdies from five to seven as he holed a couple of monsters on the final two holes. Yet this was much more than an exemplary putting performance by the Spaniard, whose iron play was sublime.

Woods, playing his eighth competitive round since returning from the back surgery he underwent in March, shot one-over 71 to fall back to one-under. “I didn't hit the ball well, I didn't putt well, I didn't do anything well,” Tiger said. “The only thing I did well was fight hard.”

Graeme McDowell was tied 36th on one-over after an even-par 70.

Padraig Harrington will be in high class company for the first two rounds of next week’s PGA Championship at Valhalla after being teamed-up in the same threeball with Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.

Though McIlroy also has lifted the Wanamaker Trophy, at Kiawah Island in 2012, the 25-year-old Open Champion plays with his fellow Major-winners this year, US Open hero Martin Kaymer and Masters kingpin Bubba Watson, in keeping with a long-held PGA Championship tradition.

WGC Bridgestone Invitational,|Live, Sky Sports 4, 5.0

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