By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. -- This week marks the third straight year Luke Donald has made his PGA TOUR season's debut at the Northern Trust Open.
The well-rested Donald has won six times worldwide during that stretch. He rose from ninth to No. 1 in the world in 2011 alone, spending a total of 56 weeks there, and the Englishman has never been lower than his current spot of No. 3 in the last 24 months.
So why argue with success?
"Worked very well for me back then," Donald said, thinking back to 2011. "And it's been a long year, the golf season, and it's hard to find breaks and it's hard to find time where you can actually work on your swing to try and make some improvements with your game.
"So I took a decent amount of time off, but I feel rested, feel ready to go. I've been working hard on the swing, and looking forward to starting again here this week. Riviera is always a great course, a great field, one of the classic golf courses we play all year."
Donald had sinus surgery in December but maintains he could have played in early January. He simply wanted the extra time to make incremental changes -- actually, he prefers the word "improvements" -- to his swing.
"I'm constantly striving to get the club in a little bit better position at the top, a bit more neutral, a little bit more deeper with maybe slightly more cup in the left wrist," Donald said. "And I'm always working on the downswing, trying to get my hands and arms a little bit more underneath me, so I flip left past impact."
Donald shot 67 in Wednesday's pro-am which had to be a positive. He also has three top-six finishes, including second in 2010, in his last six starts at Riviera, a shotmaker's course that should be right right down his alley.
While Donald was fine-tuning his game, though, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson got back in the winner's circle and Brant Snedeker posted one win, two seconds and a third in his first five starts to grab a comfortable lead in the FedExCup he won last year. So does Donald feel a bit anxious?
"Yes and no," he said. "I've been around the TOUR long enough to know that it's a marathon; it's not a sprint. It's been a long season. It's about positioning yourself. ... I think with this new playoff system in the last five years, it's not a money list title anymore. As much as the money list was a great way to define who was playing the best, the FedExCup gives you a chance; you don't have to be going in No. 1 at the beginning of the Playoffs.
"So again, I still feel I have plenty of events till then. Obviously Brandt has got off to a great start, and it's nice to see Tiger and Phil playing well. Any time you have the great players playing well, it inspires you to work harder and try and catch them.'