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Stephen Gallacher column: So good to get up close to master Dustin Johnson at his peak

Dustin Johnson.
Dustin Johnson.

It is great to be back in Scotland after a month away, although the heavy snow has been a real shock to the system.

It has been quite a contrast to go from the 29C in Saudi Arabia to -8C in Scotland.

I’m in the middle of a 10-day isolation period in the house, so I will just be catching up on a bit of reading and doing a bit of fitness work at home.

It was nice to be in contention at the Saudi International and go out in the leading group on the Saturday, even if the weekend didn’t go quite as well as I would have hoped.

I played alongside Ryan Fox and the eventual winner Dustin Johnson in the third round. I had never played a round with world number one Dustin before, so it was nice to get that opportunity.

He was very impressive and a lovely guy. It was no surprise he won the tournament as he was in total control of his game.

He was on a different level and I didn’t see a weakness in his game.

It is always good to play with top players, because it is a great chance to see how they approach the game and what their attitude is like on the course.

He was a very chilled guy and we were chatting away about the Super Bowl and Augusta.

Dustin is top of the rankings for a reason and I really enjoyed playing in that group. I wish I had finished a bit better, but overall it has been a good start to the season.

The first three European Tour tournaments of 2021 in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Saudi Arabia all had great fields with players such as Tommy Fleetwood, Justin Rose, Sergio Garcia, Patrick Reed, Rory McIlroy, Kevin Na, Tony Finau and Dustin.

It has also been a good start to the season for the Scots, because we had top-five finishes at all three events with Marc Warren (T5) in Abu Dhabi, Robert MacIntyre (3rd) in Dubai and Calum Hill (T4) in Saudi.

I’m going to be home for at least a month now with the next regular European Tour event the Qatar Open, which starts on March 11.

The tightening of travel restrictions is a concern, so I’m not sure if I will play Qatar. It will depend on how the land lies closer to the time.

A compulsory 10-day quarantine in a hotel at a cost of £1,750 will start on Monday for those travelling into Scotland and it is a little bit unclear on whether the elite athlete exemption will remain.

I don’t think I would be playing tournaments if I knew I had to come back to do 10 days without leaving a hotel.

The most important thing is the bigger picture and that is tackling coronavirus. We all want to play our part, but it is also a worrying time for the tour because we have tournaments across the world and it is becoming more challenging to keep that going.

There is so much uncertainty just now and the rules on quarantining are different north and south of the border. In England, it will just be for people coming back from “red zone” countries, whereas in Scotland it will apply to all arrivals.

We are seeing it on the tour with the South African golfers, who are struggling to get to countries to play events.

Ryan Fox had only one slot to get back to New Zealand on February 9 and if he missed that he wasn’t going to be allowed back into his country until May.

His partner had a baby in December, so you can imagine how stressful that would be if you were worried about missing the only chance to get back into your country for so long.

The European Tour has made the best of a difficult situation so far and it looks like it is going to have to do the same in 2021.

Great to see Jordan Spieth back in hunt

It was great to see Jordan Spieth back near the top of the leaderboard at the Phoenix Open.

The American couldn’t quite get over the winning line, but his tied-fourth finish was his best performance in 20 months.

He is such a nice guy and he has gone through a tough time with his game recently.

People have been impressed with the way he has handled himself. He has been exactly the same when he was at the top of the rankings and winning majors as he has been in more recent times when he has been finding golf more challenging.

He’ll take lots of positives from this week and hope to build on it.

It felt like Brooks Koepka came from nowhere on the final day to win, perhaps because so much attention was focused on Speith.

Brooks is a great golfer and he’ll be challenging for the world number one spot soon.

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