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Donald Opts out of Par 3 Contest; Focus Is on Green Jacket
No. 1-ranked Luke Donald has decided not to play in Wednesday's Par-3 Contest at Augusta National Golf Club. Instead, the 34-year-old Englishman will focus exclusively on the Masters proper, which starts Thursday.
"I've decided this year I'm not going to play the Par 3," he said Tuesday. "Last year I actually had a very focused goal of trying to win both of them, and it was something that I wanted to do; something that was different, to try and defy convention I suppose," he said in reference to the odd fact that no Par 3 Contest winner has ever won the Masters in the same year.
"And I almost did it. I had a good chance at winning both. But this year I'm just going to concentrate on the main one."
Focus is certainly one of Donald's strengths. Though not one of the longest hitters in golf and, presumably, at a disadvantage on a course that favors bombers, Donald has nevertheless enjoyed success in the first major of the year. In seven Masters he's had three top-10 finishes, including a tie for fourth last year.
There are short-hitters who've done well at Augusta National, including recent winners Trevor Immelman (2008), Zach Johnson ('07), Mike Weir ('03), Larry Mize (1987) and two-time champion Ben Crenshaw (1984 and '95).
Enhancing Donald's chances is that he's played very well and consistently for well over a year. In 2011 the Northwestern University grad had a season for the ages, becoming the first player in history to win the money titles on both the PGA and European tours and walking off with Player-of-the-Year honors on both.
The only title missing from Donald's impressive portfolio (five PGA Tour wins, five in Europe and a WGC victory in the 2011 Match Play Championship) is a major. But Donald believes this could be the year, and the Masters could be his best chance at that elusive major, mainly because of his familiarity and past successes on the course.
"I think my job is to keep controlling what I can control," he said Tuesday. "Obviously there's expectation, but I do believe the key to winning for me is to continually improve my driving. I think majors become trickier around the greens. They are firmer, smaller greens, usually. And Jack Nicklaus told me last year that he thinks he was successful because he drove it very well (at Augusta)."
Here's what else Donald told reporters during his Q&A session with the media on Tuesday.
MODERATOR: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, and thank you for taking the time to be with us this afternoon, as we welcome back Luke Donald to Augusta National. As you know, he is the world's No. 1 ranked golfer who last year earned his second top 5 finish at Augusta National when he tied for fourth. He had two PGA Tour victories last year on his way to backing the 2011 PGA Tour Player of the Year. This will be his eighth Masters appearance. Welcome back to Augusta National. Why don't we open with you for a few comments.
LUKE DONALD: Thank you. It's great to be here. I was on the range with Tiger and he mentioned it was his 18th or something. Maybe I haven't played that many. It's great to be back here. The course, it seems every year, the course gets in better condition. I think with the warm weather they have had this year, the growth is especially good. And I'm looking forward to what is probably the most anticipated event of the year.
Q. Do you feel like this is a course that you can play well? Is it the type of course that when you show up, you feel good about it?
LUKE DONALD: Absolutely. I feel very good about this course. I think having a good short game is important around here. Having good feel on the greens, I think it happens most weeks, that the guy who putts really well is going to have a chance. And obviously that's been a good strength of mine the last few years.
Q. Do you feel a better player now from 12 months ago, especially the way you won, the victories and the nature of the victories? How much confidence does that give you?
LUKE DONALD: Certainly in terms of confidence, yeah, I feel like a different player. I feel every year I'm learning more about my swing, learning more about my misses, my mistakes, how to deal with it, how to get myself around the golf course in a better way. And certainly, you know, having won five times in the last 14 months, you only gain a lot of confidence from that. But also, knowing that with those five victories, probably only one of them I really played what I thought was really good golf. Four of them I thought I didn't play my best and I still managed to win. I think that was important for me to know that I don't have to go out there and press to play my best to win. I think all players want to get to a point where if they manage it correctly, they are still going to have a chance to win. Obviously having closed out some tournaments pretty well, as well, I know if I get in or around the lead, then we are going to have a good chance.
Q. Is that a pressing fact, especially from around here on the back nine on Sunday?
LUKE DONALD: Well, I think that's what's very magical about this tournament is usually Sunday is a great chance to make a run. Some of the pins are in feeder places where you can make some eagles, make some birdies. And it just makes this event very exciting. It doesn't mean you necessarily have to press to do well. But if you're playing well, you can certainly make a run on the back nine.
Q. Do you think it's to your advantage that it plays slow with some rain, or would you rather it be hot and fast out there?
LUKE DONALD: I've always enjoyed hot and fast. As long as I've been coming here, no matter how warm or how cold it is, the course doesn't play too differently. Obviously with the temperature, the forecast temperature being reasonably warm this week, the ball will fly a little bit further. But the ground just seems to be always the same. I've never really played this course where it's really fiery in terms of the fairways. Obviously with the grass coming into us, you know, you don't get a lot of roll. But certainly I would personally prefer if it was a warmer week.
Q. Which par-5s do you hit routinely in two?
LUKE DONALD: Probably 13 and 15. And 2, I get around the front edge.
Q. If there were sort of one or two things that you could put your finger on in terms of what has held you back at a major championship, and specifically here, what do you think those would be?
LUKE DONALD: I think it goes back to thinking that I need to do more than I actually realize I do. And I think that's why this year has really helped me to kind of figure that out. I've been able to win tournaments without playing my best golf, and I think majors is a similar deal. I think a lot of people put too much pressure on yourself, and you go out there and you press a little bit too hard, and suddenly you're a few shots back and trying to play catch up. Obviously knowing that just playing my game is good enough is a good thought to have for me.
Q. What criteria would you use to define the best player without a major? Would it be world ranking? Number of wins? Number of chances at a major? And based on that, who would you say is the best without a major?
LUKE DONALD: (Chuckling.) That's a tricky question. Obviously my name would be in the hat. Obviously Lee's been around quite a bit and he's obviously had probably more opportunities than I have to win majors. Sergio; yeah, Stricker has obviously been a top player for a long time. It's a tough question to answer.
Q. That's why I asked it.
LUKE DONALD: I'll wipe the sweat off now.
Q. What was the win where you played your best golf and what was missing from the other times? Was it the same thing each time?
LUKE DONALD: The one I played my best was the Match Play. Other than maybe three or four holes in that last match against Kaymer, I felt very much in control, and it showed, obviously, in the results. At Wentworth, I had a couple of days where I wasn't driving it particularly well. Struggling with that part of my game. Scotland, I think I didn't putt that great at the beginning of the week. Disney, I struggled off the tee. I really felt I struggled to get the ball in play enough there.
You know, still, having the ability to kind of get through those rough patches and find a way to grind out tough pars when you need to through a good short game and then take the opportunities when you have was good enough to win still. Even at Tampa, everything was working okay that week, but I just didn't feel like it was my best golf. But that's a good thing; if you're not playing your best and you're still able to win, that's a positive in my book.
Q. You mentioned a couple of times about practicing with Rory down at The Bear's Club. Wonder if you can talk about the constructive dynamic there clearly is between you as the top players in the world and whether there is a genuine rivalry stoked by this back and forth in the world ranking.
LUKE DONALD: I don't know if it's a rivalry. It's great if you have talent like Rory playing extremely well and pushing you to work harder. Those guys challenge me to work harder to try and find that next level. It's no difference with Rory to Lee to Tiger to Phil. When great players are playing great, it inspires me to work harder. We ended up not really practicing that much at the Bear's last week. But certainly it's nice to have those kind of golfers around if you want to have a game, but it's nice to have the good players playing well and pushing you.
Q. So tomorrow we have the Par 3 Contest where you're the defending champion. Wonder if you can talk about that tradition and what the atmosphere is like, and will you try your hardest given the fact that no Par 3 champion has ever won the tournament?
LUKE DONALD: I've decided this year I'm not going to play the Par 3 actually. Last year I actually had a very focused goal of trying to win both of them, and it was something that I wanted to do; something that was different, to try and defy convention I suppose. And I almost did it. I had a good chance at winning both. But this year I'm just going to concentrate on the main one.
Q. Does it mean anything to be ranked No. 1 during the Masters? And after you won Tampa, when did you realize you would still be No. 1?
LUKE DONALD: Straightaway. I think there's too many of you guys with your calculators out trying to figure out this stuff. I saw through Twitter that I was still going to be No. 1. It doesn't really matter. It's nice to be back to No. 1. You know, it just means I'm playing well. That's all.
Q. A couple of items. If you're not going to be playing in the Par 3, what are you going to do instead? And I assume you've used Dave Alred in the buildup to this. Can you give us an example of what you might have done with Dave?
LUKE DONALD: Well, I came here last week and played a couple rounds. I feel like I've done all my work. Tomorrow I'll go play nine holes a little bit later on, so I'm not having to rush to get here too early if I was going to play the Par 3. It will be a relaxed day, get in nine holes, get in some good practice and just be ready for Thursday. Dave is here this week. Last time I - when did I last see Dave? I haven't actually seen him since a few weeks ago. Obviously we have chatted on the phone. It's really just going through the same things. Nothing specific. Just making sure that all of the practices are very focused.
Q. This is your eighth time playing here now. How well do you think you know the golf course now, and what was the toughest thing you had to learn about it over the course of the years? I ask that because we were talking about the first time guys, a lot of players, it takes five or six years before they are really comfortable and feel like they can win on the golf course.
LUKE DONALD: Well, obviously my first year here, I finished third, and it was mostly due to just being so excited to be here and having that great kind of excited feeling about everything that was going around. I was in a good mood, I suppose, and that obviously goes a long way with golf. Obviously this is my eighth time. I do feel like I've learned most of the things about the golf course by now. Obviously every time you come back, you learn a little more. The couple of days I practiced last week, there were a few things that I figured out, a little bit different shots to practice and prepare for. But certainly I feel like I know the course pretty well now.
Q. Is there a specific thing that absolutely just takes some time before anybody is ever going to learn? Is it just knowing that two inches can mean the difference in 50 or 60 feet in a shot into a green?
LUKE DONALD: You get used to the pin positions, the ones to kind of attack, the ones to be a little bit more wary of. You know, you just get a feel for the tee shots, what kind of clubs to hit off of the tees. This year I will hit a few more 3 woods than I would the in previous years. You know, it's just like everything. You're always learning as you go along.
Q. Being No. 1 in the world, do you get any added motivation that you don't seem to be the favorite on many lists, especially for betting?
LUKE DONALD: Well, I have my own things that motivate me. I'm not sure that's one of them. Obviously Tiger is always the guy that pushes the needle the most, and obviously Rory gets a lot of attention now. But for me, that's probably a good thing. I can kind of go about my business and just get on with things.
Q. What are you bringing to this year's tournament after last year? You had a kind of relatively slow first round, and then, like a lot of guys, other than 12, you had a really great final round. When you look back on last year, what do you think of right now?
LUKE DONALD: Well, the fact that I made I think 20, 21 birdies, and an eagle last year; and I think knowing that I'm able to shoot those kind of scores. Obviously I looked in quite a bit of detail in my statistics from last year in where I could find some improvement; obviously 12, trying not to hit it in the water on Sunday. But you are just always constantly trying to learn from what you did and kind of move forward.
Q. And do you think you have to play your best -you talked about that today - to win?
LUKE DONALD: I don't think so. I think I have to play very solidly. If I play my best, hopefully that will -I would hope that would certainly be good enough. But I feel like what I've learnt, especially from the last year or two, that I don't need to play quite my best. I just need to play good golf.
Q. Do you have any particular strategies this year that is new in general about the round or on a particular hole that you could share with us?
LUKE DONALD: The only real difference I've been experimenting a little bit is off the greens, off the edge of the greens. It can be a little bit tricky around here. In the morning it's dewy. The ball tends to skip through and it's a little bit easier. When it gets drier, the grass becomes very sticky around the greens. I've experimented a little bit with actually using a driver around the greens. A lot of people use rescues, 3 woods sometimes, putters. But I just found the driver had the perfect loft, that it was able to go through the grass a little bit. Whether I'll use it this year or not, I'm not sure, but certainly something I've been playing around with.
Q. You just choke up on that?
LUKE DONALD: Choke up on it, use it like a putter, yeah.
Q. Eight degrees? Nine degrees?
LUKE DONALD: It's nine degrees.
Q. Putting grip?
LUKE DONALD: Yeah.
Q. Lee was just in here saying it's able that certain publications have said that Tiger versus Rory is the only show in town. How na´ve is it to say it's a two horse race?
LUKE DONALD: I think it's something, as pros, we tend to expect. Everyone wants to make that kind of rivalry, and obviously those two guys garner the most attention right now. I think it's a little na´ve to say that they are the only two that have a chance to win around here. Just in the last, what, three or four years of majors, I don't think there's been a multiple winner. So obviously without one or two people dominating, I think there's a chance for a lot of people to win this week.
Q. And does that motivate you?
LUKE DONALD: I don't know where these stories are coming from. I'm still a decent number in the bookies, aren't I? I don't know if I've been written off yet.
Q. Does not playing in the Par 3 indicate you believe there is a jinx to it?
LUKE DONALD: No, just the fact that my focus is on winning the other one, not the Par 3 this year. As fun as it is - and I probably will play it when my kids get a little bit older, because I think it's a great experience to take out my daughters to come carry a few clubs around with me. That would be fun. But playing on greens that are not quite the same the afternoon before the first round doesn't seem the best preparation for me.
Q. Is there any reasonable explanation for the drought of Englishmen winning majors, and what would it be like to be the person ending that drought?
LUKE DONALD: It would be great. I don't know why there's been a drought. But like all things, hopefully one person does it and it kind of opens the floodgates. Obviously English golf is doing very well right now. We are certainly winning our fair share of tournaments. We just have to turn those into major wins.
Q. Just curious, the number of times you've played here since last year, when you play the 10th; a, have you noticed the cabins left, and if you do, have you thought about Rory?
LUKE DONALD: Well, I played here last week, and I did ask my caddie where exactly was Rory. And he goes, you know, there wasn't a single person that doesn't go by here that asks where Rory's ball was. Because obviously I was out on the course and never watched it and never saw him. I mean, you've obviously got to be a lit unlucky to take such a bounce. It certainly could have bounced the other way, back into the fairway. I've hit those trees before, but it obviously never ricocheted that far back. It's a shot that you're trying to turn it around the corner, you slightly pull it, and it can happen quicker than you really think.
Q. You've got a local caddie that said that everyone asks about it when they come down here?
LUKE DONALD: Yeah.
MODERATOR: Luke, thank you very much and good luck to you.
The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.
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