Donald Thinks Added Distance Plays in His Favor

By Associated PressApril 4, 2006, 4:00 pm
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Jack Nicklaus is among those who believe additional length at Augusta National has created such an advantage to the big hitters that only a dozen or so players have a realistic chance at winning the Masters.
Luke Donald isn't buying it.
He actually believes the length plays to his strengths.
The 28-year-old from England has moderate power off the tee -- and that's being generous -- relying instead on purely struck iron shots with a classic swing. It sure didn't hurt him last year in his Masters debut, when he posted three rounds in the 60s -- a 76 in the third round derailing his hopes -- to finish in a tie for third, seven shots out of the playoff.
'They have lengthened the course, and it's definitely harder,' Donald said Monday. 'But hopefully, that will just play to my strengths of having to hit very accurate, long irons. That's something I've done well throughout my career, and I feel like even though the course has changed, I've changed as a player, too.'
His biggest change of late was hoisting a trophy, which had held him back.
A former NCAA champion at Northwestern and Walker Cup player, Donald's only victory on the PGA Tour was the rain-delayed, opposite-field Southern Farm Bureau Classic at the end of the 2002 season. He contended on some of the meatier courses, such as Torrey Pines, but his iron play often deserted him on the closing holes.
He broke through a month ago at the Honda Classic, hitting a 7-iron into 2 feet on the 18th hole to clinch the victory. Now, Donald is setting his goals a little higher.
He wants the top 10 in the world ranking to be a regular destination -- he now is No. 9 -- and a regular contender at the majors. His first chance this year starts Thursday in the Masters, where Tiger Woods is the defending champion.
Donald is under no illusions.
Augusta National has been stretch to 7,445 yards -- the second-longest course in major championship history -- and when he played the course a month ago and came to the 240-yard fourth hole, Donald had to hit 3-wood to the par 3.
Of course, he put it 6 feet from the hole for birdie.
'There's no question that if you're hitting it far and reasonably straight, which you do have to do around here, it's a big advantage,' Donald said. 'I saw a couple of people tee off (No.) 1 and Tiger Woods was 30, 40 yards past most people. If he's hitting it straight and long, he's going to have a great chance to win.
'But I've still got to believe that I still can,' he said. 'If I play really great golf, then I've got a chance to win around here. I do put a lot of emphasis on my iron play. If I live up to that, there's no reason why I can't make some birdies out there and compete.'
Woods checked in Monday and played nine holes with Mark O'Meara and Sean O'Hair before going to the practice range and chipping area. He'll be going for his fifth green jacket, which would make him the only player to twice defend his title.
Other favorites have one thing in common -- power -- whether it's Retief Goosen or Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh or Ernie Els.
Donald, meanwhile, is on a list of contenders who hope to end Europe's drought in the majors. The last European to win a major was Paul Lawrie at Carnoustie in the 1999 British Open. Sergio Garcia has flirted with victory a few times, while Thomas Bjorn was in the hunt at the PGA Championship last year and the '03 British Open at Royal St. George's, won by Ben Curtis.
Perhaps an anniversary will work in England's favor.
It was 10 years ago this week that Nick Faldo -- renowned more for his execution and strategy than his power -- closed with a 67 and took advantage of a collapse by Greg Norman to win the Masters for his third green jacket.
Donald found inspiration from Faldo, for no other reason than their bloodlines.
'I read stories about some of the thing he did just to prepare,' Donald said. 'He was very precise in everything he did.'
Other Europeans who might be able to end their 25-major drought are David Howell, who tied for 11th in his Masters debut last year, Garcia, big-hitting Swede Henrik Stenson and two-time Masters champion Jose Maria Olazabal, who tied for second last week at the BellSouth Classic, albeit 13 shots behind Mickelson.
Donald was asked to explain the European drought, whether it was coincidence, cyclical or simply a reflection on their games.
'A bit of everything,' he said. 'You would have to think it's a reflection on the players. It's hard to explain. We've had good enough players to win, that's for sure. We haven't had the best players in the world since that time. The top 10 players in the world have either been American, or you've got Ernie and Retief (South Africa), and there's not been too many Europeans.
'Hopefully,' he said, 'that will change.'
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    Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

    By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

    New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

    The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

    "Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."

    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

    Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

    It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

    Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.

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    Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

    By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

    SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

    Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

    He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

    Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

    Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.

    The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

    ''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

    Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

    He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

    Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

    Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

    ''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

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    13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

    Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

    Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

    Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

    “An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”

    Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.

    Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

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    McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

    It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

    Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.

    Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.

    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

    “I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

    Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

    “Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

    This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.