Luke Donald watches a chip scoot toward the hole at the 2012 Masters.
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Tee to green, Luke Donald is the same player who spent 56 weeks atop the Official World Golf Ranking. Once he gets on the putting surface, though, the Englishman has been surprisingly middle of the pack this season.
Donald has spent three of the last five seasons ranked first in the PGA TOUR's definitive Strokes-Gained Putting statistic. And the other two? Well, he ranked second in 2008 and third a year ago.
But the man with the normally flawless short game ranks a distant 75th in the same category this year. Donald only has one top-10 in four starts on TOUR this year, a tie for fourth at the Tampa Bay Championship presented by Everbank where he says he played "easily well enough to win" tee-to-green but just couldn't get the ball in the hole.
"I've been working hard on that the last couple weeks working on speed, little adjustments in setup, but I think that's a big focus for this week," Donald said. "If I can get the ball rolling into the hole and see the ball going in a little bit more, then that's usually a good indication I'm going to have a good week."
Nowhere is that more important than at Augusta National. And Donald's record in the season's first major is solid if not spectacular with three top-10s in nine appearances, including a tie for third in his 2005 debut and a share of fourth two years ago.
Not surprisingly, Donald ranked fourth and first, respectively, in putting those years. So regaining a comfort zone with his putter will be key this week but the entire short game has been an area of emphasis since Donald arrived in Augusta on Friday with his long-time coach Pat Goss.
"Technique around the greens and speed control -- I think that's the biggest thing around here for me to be successful," Donald said. "I think the grass around this green is quite sticky; it's shortish but it's still tricky to chip off and you need very good technique to be able to do that to be able to create the right strike and the right contact.
"You get so many different shots where you're not quite sure which club to hit around these greens, and obviously familiarity and technique helps. And obviously knowing the greens and learning the speed and seeing the ball just drop in. I'm not a putter that likes to hit the ball hard and I think having fast greens probably is a benefit for me because of that."
Donald comes to Augustra National fresh off a two-week break. Equally important, he's also free from the kind of expectations that attend a player ranked No. 1 in the world -- those of fans as well as some the five-time PGA TOUR winner might have put on himself.
"My results haven't been what I wanted, but someone who had such a great 2011, pretty good 2012, I know the ability is there," Donald said. "It's just being patient, waiting for my turn to come. It's frustrating sometimes, but you know, I think when you have that background of good results in the past, that you know that good things are going to happen.
"You just keep working hard and playing through some of those tough times, and it will turn around."