Mar
19
2012
Luke Donald Transitions (Back) to No. 1
By Stephanie Wei under PGA Tour

Boom goes the dynamite!

Another Sunday. Another thrilling finish on the PGA Tour (which has become the norm early in the 2012 season). So, what happened this time?

Luke Donald overcame a three-shot deficit heading into the final round of the Transitions Championship to fire a five-under 66, 13-under total, and earn a spot in the four-man playoff with Robert Garrigus, Jim Furyk and Sang-Moon Bae. After driving it in the rough on the 18th, the first extra hole, Donald came through in the clutch. He hit a beautiful 7-iron to about 6 feet and then rolled it in for birdie to win his fifth-career PGA Tour event.

Which should come as no surprise. After all, that’s what makes Luke the number-one ranked player in the world.

Yep, he’s done it again. The Englishman held the top spot in the rankings for 40 weeks until Rory McIlroy dethroned him when he captured the Honda Classic earlier this month. Just two weeks later, Donald has reclaimed the honor as the world’s No. 1.

Maybe this time he’ll get a little more credit and respect.

“I don’t pay too much attention to it, but I certainly wasn’t in the media at all,” said Luke when asked if he felt like he was written off after McIlroy ousted him. “I think people saw my last year, or thought that my last year was maybe a little bit more of a, not a fluke, but I don’t think many people thought I could do that all over again this year.  You know, hopefully I can prove them wrong.”

Donald didn’t get off to the best start to 2012. He opened his PGA Tour season at the Northern Trust Open last month and shot a final-round 78 to finish tied for 56th. Next, he headed to the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship to defend his title. In what was regarded as a huge upset, he lost — rather, got his butt whooped — in the first round of matches by Ernie Els 5&4. He showed signs of things turning around when he quietly placed tied for sixth at the WGC-Cadillac Championship last week when no one was paying any attention.

“It’s a funny game,” he said . “It does come and go. After the slow start, there are some doubts.  They do creep in sometimes.  You know, you can certainly fall into the trap of looking at last year and how I played and kind of comparing that.  But, in the end, I knew that if I kept working and I saw my swing on video, it was getting better and better, and I knew that hard work would pay off.  Obviously, i’s started to show the last couple of weeks.”

Interesting enough, Donald made a similar length putt in a playoff against Lee Westwood at the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth last May to win the event and become No. 1. This time, though, Luke didn’t feel the same nerves. I mean, the second time (in anything) is never as exciting as the first, right?

“It’s just the way it’s happened,” he said when it was noted that playoffs have been a theme in his quest for the top seat in the rankings. “It’s nice to be on the winning side.  Obviously, first against Lee (Westwood) — as I said, it was a much bigger deal to me the first time around.  I thought about it a lot and had a lot of chances obviously leading up to Wentworth.

“I was quite nervous that last round at Hilton Head (when Brandt Snedeker beat me in a playoff). I played quite well, but felt a lot different than this time around. I mean, obviously when I have experienced being at No. 1 before, as I said, it wasn’t my focus. But yeah, just funny how it did work out that way; that both had about an eight-foot putt for birdie to win it and seal it off and made them both.”

Luke, even when he was No. 1, seemed to fly under the radar, which fits his persona and the way he goes about his business on the golf course — it’s understated, not loud, flashy or explosive, but it’s steady and gets the job done. Luke plays rather boring golfer, and that’s actually a massive compliment. Which in my opinion is most of the reason he doesn’t receive the same type of attention as, say, Tiger Woods or McIlroy.

“There might be a little bit more hype around me now,” said Donald, referring to his ranking going into golf’s first major, the Masters.  “I’ll probably be able to go about my business with a bit more attention now, but again, I’ve been through that.  I still think Rory and obviously Tiger will be getting a lot of the attention.”

However, instead of growing bitter and feeling like he’s being snubbed, it’s something Donald acknowledges his under-the-radar profile is a blessing in disguise.

“There probably is an advantage to me,” said Donald when asked if it was a benefit of staying in the shadow of Tiger and Rory (and all the added obligations that go along with the spotlight). “I can kind of go about my business and not have to deal with as much as those two are dealing with.”

Wise man.

(AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)