Donald is ranked third now, behind No. 1 Martin Kaymer and No. 2 Lee Westwood. However, Donald would jump to the top with a win at Harbour Town, no matter how Westwood fares this weekend at the Indonesian Masters.
Westwood had a one-stroke lead Saturday in Jakarta after the completion of the suspended second round. Kaymer isn’t playing this week.
The 33-year-old Donald hasn’t let talk of No. 1 distract him through two rounds, finishing at 10-under 132 for a one-shot edge over first-round leader Garrett Willis (69).
Masters runner-up Jason Day (65), defending champion Jim Furyk (66), Camilo Villegas (68) and Chad Campbell (69) were 8 under. Ben Crane (66) and Ian Poulter (66) were three strokes behind Donald.
Donald was the highest ranked of seven players in the world’s top 20 competing at what could be the last Heritage. The PGA Tour fixture is seeking a title sponsor, something tour and event officials say is essential to maintaining its place on the schedule for 2012.
Donald could give the Heritage the boost it needs if he can claim No. 1.
“I guess it’s always in the back of your mind,” the Englishman said. “It’s hard to get away from knowing that with Twitter and Facebook and the media and everything, you obviously know what’s at stake.”
Donald, who won the Match Play Championship in February, thinks he can focus on what got him to this point – steady, unflappable golf.
“I can control where I hit the golf ball, and hopefully, I’ll give myself a good shot at it come Sunday,” he said.
Donald has gradually found his game the past few seasons on Pete Dye’s treacherous layout. Donald finished second two years ago, then was third behind Furyk in 2010.
Donald began the round three shots behind Willis and quickly moved in front with five birdies on the front nine. After a bogey on the 10th hole, Donald moved in front again a hole later with a 20-foot birdie putt from the fringe. An 8-footer on the par-5 15th brought his final birdie and he parred in to break 70 for eighth time in his last nine rounds in the event.
“The last couple of years, I’ve come here playing reasonably well, where I’ve had control of the golf ball, which is very key at this place,” Donald said.
Donald doesn’t want to make too much of the rankings. They’re a snapshot of how consistently you’ve performed over a two-year period, he says. But with his Match Play win, defeating Kaymer in the final, and finishing fourth in the Masters, does Donald feel like the world’s best player?
“Not yet,” he said, smiling.
Donald has several capable players close on his tail. Willis closed with a birdie to draw within a stroke. Furyk continued his strong play at Harbour Town – he’s shot in the 60s 10 of his last 12 rounds – with a bogey-free outing. And the talented Villegas is having his best tournament of the year after missing five of his first eight cuts.
Furyk might be Donald’s biggest weekend challenge. Besides winning three times last year, Furyk earned the FedEx Cup $10 million bonus. He’s had two seconds and a fourth at Harbour Town to go along with his Heritage win and is feeling as good as he did a year ago when he slipped on the champion’s plaid coat.
Furyk opened with three straight birdies and added two more to jump into contention.
“It seems like when I play well, I play really well here,” he said. “And I think it’s a little bit of testament to the golf course. I really like it here.”
U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell, ranked fifth in the world, was five shots behind after a 69. No. 10 Matt Kuchar shot a 72 to fall into a tie for 43rd, eight shots in back of Donald.
Ernie Els, 15th in the rankinigs, missed the cut with rounds of 75 and 78, his worst performance in 12 career trips to the Heritage. Els switched to a belly putter this week and struggled on the greens with 59 putts. He also failed to make a birdie Friday.
DIVOTS: Daniel Summerhays had the 20th hole-in-one at Harbour Town, using an 8-iron at No. 17. The ace followed Summerhays’ double-bogey 6 on the par-4 16th. … Among those missing the cut were five-time Heritage champion Davis Love III and rising 22-year-old star Rickie Fowler. … John Daly made his second cut in seven events – and first since January – as he finished even-par 142. … Rocco Mediate and Jesper Parnevik withdrew before their second-round tee times.