Donald returns to spotlight with clutch putt, victory

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March 18, 2012
Brian Wacker, PGA TOUR

PALM HARBOR, Fla. -- As Luke Donald sat in what's becoming a familiar seat in the interview room after another victory and answered a question about whether he uses what's written, or perhaps more importantly what's not, about him as motivation, he flashed a wry smile.

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"I use it to motivate me, yeah," Donald said. "For sure."

He proved it Sunday.

With his playoff win at the Transitions Championship, Donald not only moves to 12th in the FedExCup standings but back to No. 1 in the world, a position he held for 40 weeks before briefly letting Rory McIlroy borrow his throne.

"Absolutely," Donald continued when asked if he felt as if he'd been written off after McIlroy's ascension to the top. "I don't pay too much attention to it, but I certainly wasn't in the media at all.

"I think people 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. Hopefully I can prove them wrong."

In a wild final round that saw as many as six players share the lead late in the day, Donald did just that in his latest effort to convert the non-believers.

After a final-round 66 to erase a three-shot deficit, Donald landed in a four-man playoff with Jim Furyk, Robert Garrigus and Sang-Moon Bae.

When they all teed off on the par-4 18th hole, it was naturally Donald who was the shortest off the tee, leaving himself 159 yards that played more like 170 uphill and out of the rough.

Donald flushed a 7-iron that bounded just onto the green and settled 6 feet from the hole.

"That shot just came out perfectly," he said.

His was almost the only one that did.

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Playing from an awkward stance, Furyk over-clubbed and hit his approach to the back of the green, while Bae's ball settled just inside 20 feet.

Garrigus, the longest of the group off the tee by at least 30 yards, stiffed a wedge to just outside Donald's.

Garrigus would say afterward that he thought if he made his putt, Donald would miss his.

Fat chance.

After Furyk's 40-footer trundled past and Bae missed his birdie effort, Garrigus' ball never touched the hole and that opened the door for Donald, who poured it into the cup and flashed that grin of his.

As engaging as Donald can be with his disarming personality and smooth British accent, however, you can't blame him for carrying around a very large chip on his not-so-broad shoulders.

When McIlroy won The Honda Classic two weeks ago to move to No. 1 in the world, then went to No. 1 in the the FedExCup standings the following week, the curly-haired boy wonder was hailed to be the future of the game for the next decade to come.

He still may very well be, but not if Donald has anything to say about it.

Golf is a marathon, not a sprint and Donald has proven to be one of the best long-distance runners in the game.

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Updated standings
Luke Donald made a big move Sunday, jumping all the way to No. 12 in the race for the FedExCup. Standings

In the last two years, Donald has won seven times around the world, including three times in just over a year on the PGA TOUR.

Since losing to Ernie Els in the first round of the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship -- a loss that Donald said had really bothered him -- the new old No. 1 hasn't finished outside the top 6 in two starts.

If that's not enough, all you need to do is look at how Donald has gotten to all things No. 1.

The first time came courtesy of a playoff victory over Lee Westwood last May at Wentworth, where on the first extra hole after both players had laid up Donald stuffed his approach to 6 feet to set up an easy birdie. Westwood tried to match him but spun his ball into the water.

The next time came last fall at the Children Miracle Network Hospitals Classic, where Donald entered the week knowing a win would secure the PGA TOUR money list title and ended it with a final-round 64 for a two-shot victory.

In the process, he wrapped up the Vardon Trophy, the Byron Nelson Award, and later was named PGA TOUR Player of the Year and the Golf Writers' Association of America Male Player of the Year.

In December, he made his historic double money list win official, ending the year atop the Race to Dubai before being receiving Player of the Year honors in Europe, too.

"A huge amount of confidence," Donald said when asked what he took away from it all.

Like all the great ones, he has a tremendous amount of self-belief even when doubt creeps in as it did after that loss to Els earlier this year.

"It's a funny game. It does come and go," Donald said. "But, in the end, I knew that hard work would pay off. Obviously it's starting to show the last couple of weeks."

Especially at the Transitions Championship.

As Donald stood over his final putt, one thought entered his mind.

"Last thing I thought about was I've been ranked No. 1 in putting the last three years," he said.

When it fell, he was back to being No. 1, too.

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