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Donald Seeks to Regain No. 1 Position from McIlroy
In what's shaping up as a season-long back-and-forth swapping of the No. 1 ranking in the world, Rory McIlroy and Luke Donald are waging a tight race for the top position in golf.
McIlroy took advantage of Donald's absence in last week's Wells Fargo Championship. The 23-year-old Northern Irishman supplanted the 34-year-old Englishman by finishing tied for second with American D.A. Points in Charlotte, succumbing to a birdie on the first sudden-playoff hole by Rickie Fowler, who won for the first time on Tour.
But Donald returns for this week's Players Championship. As the richest tournament in golf, the $9.5 million event starts Thursday at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. On Wednesday, following a practice round, Donald met with reporters and talked about the battle he's in with the young Ulsterman, as well as his chances at the fabled Pete Dye-designed Sawgrass.
Here's what Donald had to say to the media on the eve of golf's so-called "fifth major."
MODERATOR: We'd like to welcome Luke Donald to the interview room at the Players Championship. Luke is making his 10th start this week, tied for second in 2005 and tied for fourth last year. If you can talk about your year to date so far, obviously the win at the Transitions Championship and thoughts on being back here at TPC Sawgrass and then we'll go to questions.
LUKE DONALD: Yeah, my year has been a little more inconsistent than last year. Obviously a little bit of a slower start than last year, but obviously getting that win at Tampa was important for me, gave me a lot of confidence. I feel like my game is improving every week. I was happy with my play a couple of weeks ago at New Orleans after a slow start; to shoot 18 under for the last three rounds was encouraging to me. I feel like my game is progressing where I want it to go to, so I'm always excited to play this event. I think it's a good golf course for me and one that I have a good chance of winning around, and obviously a tremendous tournament with a tremendous field. That makes for an exciting week.
Q. Why is it a good course for you?
LUKE DONALD: Well, I think short game is important around here. There's obviously - it's important to hit greens at this course. They are small. They are undulating. But if you do miss them, it helps to be able to be pretty good around the greens and get the ball up and down. When I feel like I'm on with my short game, that's a big tick in my box.
Q. Do you enjoy the give and take that has been going on with the No. 1 position this year and even dating back a little bit to last year? And if you don't pay too much attention to it as a player, as a fan, would you be enjoying the almost weekly back and forth?
LUKE DONALD: You know, I have no issues. I kind of enjoy the going back and forth. I think the fans enjoy it. I think the last couple of months, I think it probably has not been as exciting because Rory and I really haven't been playing in the same events. I think that will change a little bit and hopefully there will be some situations coming up in the next few months where we'll be playing in the same tournament and both having a chance to win the tournament. And that's more exciting I think, rather than me one week playing okay and getting in when he's having an off week and vice versa. I think the fact that I think coming up, we'll be playing a lot more of the same tournaments. I think that will make it a bit more relevant.
Q. Why do you think there's been such a variety of winners, different types or styles of players to win here?
LUKE DONALD: Well, I don't think it favors any one style of golf. It doesn't really favor the bomber. It's a course that if you're playing well, you're going to do well. I think because of that, that's why I like this golf course; there's no real advantage to the guy who hits it 330. There's no real advantage - there's just an advantage to the guy that plays well, and that's what to me makes it a good golf course.
Q. How many holes will you hit driver on the par-4s?
LUKE DONALD: I still hit a decent amount, considering I only hit it 280 off the tee. But just going through it, 1, 2, 5, 7 - maybe four or five on the front nine. Yeah, I'm still going to hit eight, nine drives out there, so a decent amount.
Q. Do you even understand the formula that they use for the World Rankings, and if you could come up with a formula or certain categories that meant more than others, as a player, what would be important to you in that formula?
LUKE DONALD: I understand the premise of the World Rankings. You know, I think with any system, there's always going to be some flaws. I don't think there is a perfect system. I think there's been some criticism that a lesser event, a winner at pretty much a lesser event is equivalent to something like a fourth or third place finish in a major. I might have some issues with that. I think that's a tough call. But I'm no mathematician. I don't know how to work these things out. And just remember, there's only really been some questions about the World Ranking in the last couple of years because of the parity that we are seeing. Obviously no one really questioned it when Tiger was so far ahead for many years. I don't think the system is very far away. Maybe a little bit of tweaking here and there, but it's pretty close, I think.
Q. The only reason I ask, as a player, is there something that you guys look at that means more to you than any formula could account for?
LUKE DONALD: I'm not sure how to answer that question. When I play golf, I don't really look at the World Rankings. I don't try and calculate the points. I just go play. You know, it is what it is on Monday every week.
Q. Where would winning this event rank for you? Would it be above the Accenture and Wentworth, or below?
LUKE DONALD: I would probably have to put it above, just because of the group of people that are playing here this week. That's why I think it's probably sometimes talked as the fifth major, because of the strength of field. It doesn't have quite that feel of a major, but because of the strength of field, it's just a small step down. Obviously Wentworth is a great tournament. I wish it attracted more of the American players to go over there, and obviously the Accenture is only 64 players. So I would have to put this slightly above those two.
Q. When you see the draw and you see, I've got Westy, does it make bragging rights up for this week? What are your thoughts when you say it's a friendly face, but also a home rival for you? And do you expect a big crowd?
LUKE DONALD: Well, you know, two English guys in Sawgrass, I'm not sure if that's going to produce a huge crowd or not. Bill Haas might bring more people than us two (laughter). I'm sure if they come watch, they will see some good golf. You know, Lee and I get along very well. We don't really - we don't have any issues with each other. We get along well, and I think hopefully that kind of knowing each other a little bit better than some other guys will produce some good golf. We'll be a little bit more relaxed around each other, and we'll just go out there and have some fun.
Q. Do the players who are among the top 10, let's say, in the rankings, does the ranking correspond with your beliefs about those players' abilities, and do you think it's fairly close - without getting into any specifics about where it might not correspond, do you have any differences with it?
LUKE DONALD: Again, I haven't really studied it that much. I'm not sure I could name the top 10 exactly. But again, I don't really have too many issues with the system. This is something I haven't really thought about that much. There have been other - I saw an article a couple of weeks ago by one of the statisticians who came up with the new putt statistic and they came up with a new ranking, that at the end of 2010, all I saw was that I was ranked No.9 and that's where I was in the World Rankings. I know there was some bias against the players that play on the U.S. Tour; that was the theory that came about from it. But obviously I was in the same position on both systems, so that's kind of what I took from it.
Q. Just curious if you were an American and grew up here, etc., would you play Wentworth, and why would you, and do you think you should? And pardon my English there.
LUKE DONALD: Well, I can see why there's reasons not to play it. You don't have to travel far to play in a $6 million event at a great course at Colonial. There are reasons not to play in it. But I've always been a proponent of to get the most out of your game, it's important to travel and to experience new places. I think at least go try it once, and if you don't like it, fair enough. But it's a big event on our tour. It's considered our Players Championship of the European Tour, and I would have thought that would incite some interest in some of the big Americans that would be exempt for it.
Q. Have you been able to tell the areas on the greens that are bulk headed, where they rebuilt those areas close to the bulkheads; is it going to help or affect competition or is it too subtle to really make that much of a difference?
LUKE DONALD: I only played the front nine yesterday. I was going to play the back but kind of got rained out. So I only saw 4, and I didn't really notice much of a difference. What have they done?
Q. They have rebuilt 40 percent of 17, a little bit on the front and back, right; left front of 18, and they have taken out some of the slopes that five years of top dressing had created, so I don't think they are going to be running putts from the back of 18 off the green as much as possible.
LUKE DONALD: I think 18 was an issue. I remember Graeme McDowell hit a great shot in there, ran up the slope, ran all the way around and went in the water, which is not fair, so that probably needed addressing. I'm sure the changes they have made to the other holes on the back nine that I have not seen are fair, too. I'm not sure. I can't really comment on them because I haven't played them yet.
Q. I think I know what you're going to say, but I'm going to try to tease an answer out of you nonetheless. Can you remember what you thought last year when Lee and Rory didn't play here?
LUKE DONALD: Well, I suppose I was a little surprised, because most of the time, everyone does play. The top 50 do play. That's just kind of the way it's been. That's the history behind this event. I don't know the politics behind why not; if it was anything to do with their management company or if it was all a personal decision. I'm not really sure. Perhaps it was a stand against, well, if you're not going to play Wentworth, we are not going to play the Players Championship. I don't know. I haven't really spoken to them about it but that's me just guessing.
Q. But it did seem surprising?
LUKE DONALD: I think it was surprising, yeah, because history would say that the top 50 guys come here, and it's a big event. It's just a small step down from the majors.
Q. You brought Pat out to New Orleans a couple weeks ago, kind of on a short game necessity. Can you talk about what you've done since New Orleans and has your focus been completely on short game to get yourself prepared for this and the rest of the season?
LUKE DONALD: Well, I felt leaving Augusta, I was very disappointed with my short game. It let me down. It wasn't sharp enough, and usually when I'm not sharp around the greens, it bleeds into other parts of my game. I start pressing, trying to hit the irons a little close and hit more greens, and that's just the way it is for me and most people. So it was important for me to make sure I was doing the correct fundamentals in my short game, and having Pat come out for a few days was important. I was back in Chicago all last week. I got to work with him a bunch more, and we just really were concentrating hard on the correct fundamentals, making sure I was doing it the right way, because it was a little off. That's why I struggled. So been concentrating a lot on that, but also some full swing stuff. I feel like I'm back on track.
Q. What is your schedule leading into the U.S. Open from here going forward?
LUKE DONALD: I play Wentworth, Memorial, U.S. Open.
Q. And secondly, this back and forth with No. 1 with Lee kind of on the periphery right now, do you see it being that way the rest of the year, or would you predict there would be a clear cut by sometime later this summer?
LUKE DONALD: Hopefully it will be me (raising hand) going that way, and not one of the other two. I mean, it's hard to predict. I feel like I'm starting to play better and I'm going to hopefully win some more events here. No matter how I play, I'm sure the other two will try and keep up.
Q. What has to happen for there to be separation? Does there have to be a major involved, do you think?
LUKE DONALD: A major - one of two things: You've got to win a major or some multiple events; and the other guys have to not play that well.
Q. I was wondering if you could just talk about the par 3s on the back nine, 13 and 17, how you approach them tactically, and how they fall in the round; are you more aggressive on one than the other, that sort of thing?
LUKE DONALD: Well, 13, I like 13. Again, it's not a long par-3. It's more about the line you take off the tee. You've got to get obviously the distance correct, as well. But 13 has probably the most slope of any of the greens out there. The bottom pins are dangerous pins, but they also feed to them and are birdie opportunities. Again, it's heavily on good line and good distance on 13. 17 obviously is the famous par 3 here. I kind of like that it's 17. I think if it was anywhere sooner in the round, it wouldn't be as famous. It wouldn't mean as much, and it would not be as important. It's what makes this course so special is the last three holes, and 17 being one of them. 17 is, again, a short hole, and I think all good par 3s are short. The aim, really, on 17 is to play mostly to the middle of the green, have a putt from there, and try and stay away from hitting in the water.
MODERATOR: Luke, thanks for your time. Best of luck this week.
The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.
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