Apr
23
2011
Luuuuuke Still Leeeeeads, a Round Away From No. 1
By Stephanie Wei under PGA Tour

Luke's short game is really, really good.

Luke Donald battled back from a rough start in the third round at Harbour Town to regain his position atop the leaderboard at The Heritage. Now, only one round separates Donald, currently the world’s No. 3, from reaching the No. 1 spot in the rankings. He recovered from a double bogey on the second hole to shoot one-under 70 and hold the 54-hole lead by one over defending champion Jim Furyk, who carded two-under 69. Luke gave up several shots to the field on the second hole after knocking his 2-iron out of bounds into the condos bordering the left side of the fairway.

“It wasn’t really a terrible shot, just pulled it slightly,” said Donald in his post-round presser. “I dug deep and made some good birdies. It was tougher today, the wind was more of a factor, the greens are getting firmer and crustier. And I was pleased with bringing it back.”

The next two holes, Nos. 3 and 4, were key for him. Shaken up from the poor iron shot on No. 2, he didn’t commit to the next two iron shots. His short game prowess saved him and he managed to convert and make pars.

“3 and 4 were vital to me today,” said Luke. “Those up-and-downs and keeping some momentum going where I wasn’t completely backwards was big for me. And making a nice putt on 5 really steadied the ship and I was able to build off that.”

The iconic 18th hole with the lighthouse behind the green

Like he said yesterday, his swing got off kilter in 2007 when he tried to make swing changes to gain more power off the tee. To compensate for poor ballstriking, he had to become even more adept around the greens.

“I have a lot of practice around the greens,” said Luke with a self-deprecating smile. “I didn’t hit the ball tee to green that great over the last few years. I was missing more greens than I should have. I had to become very proficient around the greens. And obviously put a lot of work into it and it’s been paying off.”

Donald still has his work cut out for him with a clustered leaderboard, Brendon de Jonge, who shot a sizzling 66, is two back, along with Scott Verplank. Ricky Barnes, Tommy “Two Gloves” Gainey and Jason Day are tied for fifth at eight-under, three strokes off the pace. With that in mind, Donald doesn’t plan on playing protective golf, rather gunning for birdie to win.

“I think with just a one-shot lead you can’t play protective golf, you have to go out there and try to win it, make some birdies and not try to hold on to that lead,” said Luke. “I don’t know if it’s going to be windy again tomorrow, but the course is only getting harder and faster. You have to take your birdie opportunities when you get them.”

And of course, winning also means securing the top spot in the world rankings. Current world No. 1 Martin Kaymer, who isn’t playing this week, will likely be dethroned. The question is whether it will be Lee Westwood, who is playing the Indonesian Masters, or Donald. Westwood holds a five-shot lead going into the final round, and given that guys named Thitiphun Chuayprakong and Hyun-bin Park are the closest contenders (with all due respect), I don’t think Westy will have much of a challenge on Sunday.

If Westwood and Donald both win, Donald will become No. 1. But if Westwood wins and Donald falters, Westwood will take the top spot. The two have exchanged cordial messages on Twitter.

“He sent me a message yesterday just saying, ‘Good playing,'” said Luke. “And I sent one back. We’re obviously Ryder Cup partners and we’re friends off the course. Obviously we’re a long way apart right now in terms of where we are (geographically), but we never wish bad on each other. I have the opportunity to go out there and win, and if I do, then I know what’s going to happen.”

Winning always takes care of the rest, doesn’t it? Go Luuuuuuuuuke.

(AP Photo/Stephen Morton)