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Donald Weighs in on Match Play Championship


Luke Donald will return to defend his title in the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship. The tournament will be held at the Ritz-Carlton GC, Dove Mountain, Marana, Ariz., February 22-26.

During a dominating performance in 2011, Donald - who ascended to the No. 1 ranking in the world of golf last year, rolled to the title. He beat Charlie Hoffman 6 and 5, Eduardo Molinari 2 and 1, Matteo Manassero 3 and 2, Ryan Moore 5 and 4, and Matt Kuchar 6 and 5. In the championship match, he beat Martin Kaymer 3 and 1 to ignite one of the best seasons in recent memory.

Following that win last February, the 34-year-old Brit reeled off two victories on the European Tour and closed out the year with a triumph in the PGA Tour's regular season finale, the Children's Miracle Network Hospital Classic. For his transcendent play, Donald became the first player in history to win the money titles on both the PGA and European tours, and became the first Englishman since Nick Faldo in 1990 to be named the PGA Tour's Player of the Year.

New for 2012, the seeding for the four Accenture Match Play Championship brackets will be based on the Official World Golf Ranking as of the Monday of championship week, as opposed to the OWGR at the time the field is finalized.

This modification will ensure that players are seeded based upon their most current ranking position. As of February 13, the top four seeds would be Donald, Lee Westwood, Rory McIlroy and Kaymer.

On Monday during a press conference in advance of the 2012 Match-Play Championship, the first of four World Golf Championships of the year, Donald and various tournament dignitaries sat down with reporters. Below is the edited transcript of Donald's chat with reporters.

DONALD: It's great to be back here. This is really where it all started for me for last year. I mean . . . my last win before coming here and winning was 2006 at the Honda Classic. So it had been a while since I'd won on the PGA Tour. To come here and play against the best players in the world and to win in the fashion I did, gave me a huge amount of confidence. I'm very excited to be coming back here next week, and looking forward to trying to defend my title. This has been a great event. I'd like to thank Accenture for all the help they've done. Obviously, the money that they raise through the el Conquistadores is tremendous. It's just a privilege to be here and back next week to try to defend.

Q. Could you address how the players look forward to a match play event as opposed to the typical stroke play that you guys experience every week?

LUKE DONALD: I certainly look forward to it. I've always thrived at match play. The fact that we do play a lot of individual stroke play tournaments during the course of the year, when you have a match play event, it's something different. It's new. It's a bit of a different strategy to it that makes for very interesting TV. I certainly enjoy the challenge of one on one. It's a tough challenge it's a tough format, because you can have days that you play well and go home. I think all of the players really enjoy that difference. And match play, you know, different strategies, different feelings, every match you feel like it's do or die. You feel like you're teeing it up with the last group on Sunday in the match. That makes it exciting for the players too.

Q. Could you go through the last year 2011, career making year for you both personally and professionally?

LUKE DONALD: It's certainly my best year by far. All starting here, winning this tournament really gave me a huge amount of confidence, not just in winning, but the way I wanted . . . Usually in match play you have to dig out a few matches. It just seemed that year, that week, everything went smoothly. I was able to control every match, never get behind. I think because of that, it led up to a lot of the successes I had after the win. Also considering the match at Wentworth, going head to head with the No. 1 spot and playing well enough to hold on to it, and still being ranked No. 1 right now.

Picking up another win in the Scottish, and my most satisfying win was probably Disney. Going there, and knowing that I had to win to have any chance of winning that money title, and pulling out the goods when I needed to. Those are the moments that define a career and make me more proud because I was able to kind of find the shots when I needed to. But certainly, yeah, a tremendous year. Winning both money titles, doing something that nobody ever had done officially. Those are the kind of things that you'll always aspire to do to create history and change the history books. Certainly it will be tough to match that, but I'll give it my best shot this year.

Q. You are a goal setter. Tape it on 2012 and go I'm on the run, but what is setting in right now when you look at 2011 trying to match 2012?

LUKE DONALD: The reality is it's always tough to follow a great year, tough to follow a great round with another great round. That's just the way it is. It's a challenge we always face. I'm trying to approach 2012 with a clean slate. I've got new goals and new opportunities, new things to achieve. I'll certainly take all the confidence I gained from last year and use that to my advantage. But, again, I'm starting fresh this year.

Q. Luke, who is the player you'd least like to meet next week?

LUKE DONALD: Well, it's a tough question, when you're playing against the top 64 guys in the world, no match is going to be easy. And over 18 holes anything can happen. As I said, it is unusual to go through a tournament like I did last year and not have one of those really close matches that went down to extra holes and you had to grind it out. That doesn't usually happen. Each match is going to be tough. There are a lot of players playing well right now. Rory's playing well. Phil played tremendous golf last week. But, again, match play, anything can happen. So it's not one individual person that I would section out. I think they're all going to be tough matches.

Q. The second part was can you give an idea why you think European Tour players have had such success here in the match play over the last five or six years?

LUKE DONALD: I think these things go in cycles a little bit. Obviously, the European Tour is enjoying a great and rich vein of form. I think we have the top four guys in the world rankings right now. I think a lot of the Europeans grew up playing match play as amateurs as well, and I think that helps a little bit. But these things go in veins of form, and the European Tour is enjoying a great run right now. We've had success in the Ryder Cups. We've gained some confidence from those matches, and sometimes those little things add up.

Q. What is it about your game that seems so well suited for the match play format?

LUKE DONALD: Well, a few things. Obviously, when I first saw this course, I didn't actually think it was that well suited to me, just because of some of the tee shots. If you can carry a few of the bunkers that are sectioned on some of the corners of the doglegs, you can gain a little bit of an advantage. Which, certain bunkers I can't carry, certain ones where other guys can. I think it all equals out with the greens. The greens are quite tricky. They have a lot of slope to them. You have to be very proficient around the greens. Be very smart where you're hitting your iron shots to the greens, and I think that kind of plays into my hands. In terms of general match play, I just don't think I make a lot of mistakes. I think that's my biggest advantage in match play. The last thing you want to do is give away holes to silly mistakes, and I try to limit those.

Q. You mentioned, Luke, being able to pull out the goods when you needed to. Are you at the point in your career now where you really start to focus on winning a major championship and pulling out the goods in one of those?

LUKE DONALD: Well, since I first turned pro, the goal and achievement was always to win majors, and that hasn't changed. I certainly think my game is getting to a point where a lot of people say you want to peak for majors. I feel like if I continue to improve the way I've been doing, and I have been improving. I'm working as hard as I have, no matter what kind of game I come to any of the tournaments, including the majors, I'm going to have a chance to win and that's the goal.

I had some progress last year. I had a chance at Augusta. Didn't play nearly my best in the PGA and still was thereabouts. So I saw some improvements and hopefully that improvement will continue. I'm excited about the majors. As I said, I've gain aid lot of confidence from last year, and I'm looking forward to the challenges of Augusta in a few months.

Q. With the USGA and the R&A reviewing the belly putter issue, what is your opinion on that?

LUKE DONALD: Well, someone who putts very well with the short putter, I'd be all for it. I know Tiger was speaking about it a little bit last week, and it's nice to see him showing some opinions about that. He's obviously very influential. His opinions get heard. I think it's something they are seriously thinking about. It's a big decision. I know when you look at technology and the golf drivers and the golf ball, maybe the USGA and the R&A felt like maybe they didn't act quick enough. Last year we saw a huge boom in terms of the belly putters and anchoring those putters. I think if they're going to make a decision, they need to make it soon.

Q. Can you talk about how you balance the force of will? I mean, going into something you know you have to win, and at the same time having a mental state that's calm and in the present? How do you manage that balance?

LUKE DONALD: It was tricky because before Webb started putting some pressure on me my goal was to have seven weeks off after that point, after the Tour Championship. I had five, and a lot of things happened. My dad passing and my second daughter being born, so it was a strange time off. But because I wasn't that mentally prepared to play that event, it was tough for me to switch on. Certainly you saw it in my game at times. I struggled off the tee and hit a few very loose tee shots. But to come up with great tee shots and great putting on that Sunday when I needed to, that was something I was most proud of. It does come down to a little bit of just willing it. And obviously the things that had preceded that really helped in terms of confidence levels, knowing that I had done it. I had won three times before that week. So it's just about trying to find that balance of feeding off past results, and knowing that you could hole these putts when you needed to.

Q. There's been a lot of streaks in sports, but I don't think your 390 plus, non three putt green has been given the credit. How did you do that? That's unbelievable?

LUKE DONALD: I don't think you're giving me enough credit. It was 400 something, wasn't it?

Q. Well, whatever it is.

LUKE DONALD: Yeah, 449. Yeah, those are the thing that's I keep in the back of my brain that gave me added confidence. It's good having a sports psychologist telling you you're great, but when you can rely on things that you've absolutely positively done or physically done, that's really going to increase what's up here. So I have something I was very proud of. Again, I work hard at my short game. I work hard at my putting. It's been a huge key to my success. Obviously, when I did three putt, I had a three putt in Europe at the Dunhill, I was pretty annoyed. I wanted to keep that streak going. But, yeah, it was something I was very proud of.

Q. Can you talk about the importance of getting off to an early good start to the season, what it does going forward?

LUKE DONALD: Well, my first tournament I missed the cut, so I don't know. I know Phil Mickelson missed his first cut too. He seems to be playing pretty well. But joking aside, it's always nice to start off strongly. Maybe if I had played well at L.A. last year, maybe I wouldn't have come here and won. Sometimes a missed cut can get you a little bit more motivated in a way. But, yeah, it's nice to start well. Obviously, this win here set me up great because of counting in both Europe and the PGA Tour. This really set me up to give me that opportunity to win both my titles. After this week, I don't think I gave up the lead on the money list in Europe because of this win. And that was a big motivating factor to try and win both money titles.

Q. How important is that No. 1 ranking to you? Do you know how to do the calculations on that or do you have to look it up like the rest of us to see where you stand?

LUKE DONALD: Well, it is important and it isn't. It's something I'm very proud of. To know that my best is good enough to beat the best in the world is very gratifying. I wouldn't say it's ever really been the focus of my attention and my goals. It's more of a process of the things that lead you to it that I'm more concentrating on. I think my goals have always been to continue to have chances and to put myself in contention to win tournaments and to win majors. That's no different whether I'm ranked No. 1 or 500.

The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.