The Donald Part II
Were talking about Great Britains Luke Donald here. And now that Tiger Woods has announced that he is skipping the Mercedes Championships in Maui early next month and that we wont see him back on tour until mid-January in San Diego, I dont think we can write or say enough about the young Englishman.
When Luke Donald was a student-athlete at Northwestern University, he played in an event called the Chicago Open.
The purse was healthy and the field was loaded with talented club pros just itching to take Donald down and supplement their relatively modest incomes by capturing the first prize check.
Donald, still an amateur at the time, beat them all.
I remember talking to one of the club pros afterward and asking him if Donald was long enough off the tee to survive against all the icons and prodigies on the PGA and European Tours.
Hes long enough, the club pro told me, his voice rising in volume for emphasis. But you dont have to be THAT long when you hit the ball dead square in the MIDDLE of the club face EVERY single time you swing.
Now Luke Donald'he of the metronomic, picture-book action and modest physical stature'is poised to make a run at the top 10 in the world.
He has played key roles on victorious Walker and Ryder Cup teams. He has won in Europe and the States. In 2005 he posted top 5s at both The Players Championship and the Masters. And he is still in his 20s.
Sunday in California Donald blazed to a final round 64 at The Target World Challenge to catch and pass Darren Clarke, Michael Campbell and Padraig Harrington while annexing $1.3 million to his bank account.
Earlier this week my Golf Channel website colleague, George White, importantly pointed out how stats dont tell the whole story with Donald. Luke isnt especially long, by tour standards. Or straight.
What he is is imperturbable. There is a serenity about Donald on the golf course that you would never expect to find from the other Donald.
And it served him well at the Target World Challenge. I talked to Pat Goss about this. Goss coaches mens golf at Northwestern and still serves as Donalds swing monitor. He spent three days with Donald in California early last week.
And, Goss said, when Donald arrived from South Africa where he had played in the Nedbank Challenge the week before, he was fighting serious jet lag and late season fatigue. Wednesday was especially disheartening in the pro-am. If you had seen Donald that day, you would not have dreamed him to be the guy who would be hoisting the trophy Sunday.
Goss and Donald worked mostly on putting. Then on Thursday the face of Donalds driver cracked on the front nine, forcing him to take the club out of play. Ever have jet lag? It can make you cranky. Thats how Donald felt after six birdies and six bogeys produced an opening round 72.
Titleist reinforced Donald with a new driver before Fridays round. And he responded with 68-68-64 over the last 54 holes.
Luke Donald continues to spearhead the English Revolution in golf. Prior to Target, he was one of 11 of his countrymen to be ranked in the top 100 in the world.
Keep your eye on him in 2006. And dont expect him to start missing the middle of the clubface any time soon.
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Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead
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."
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.
Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore
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.''
13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest
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.
McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi
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.
“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.