World No. 1 Donald lets his game speak for him

By Doug FergusonJune 9, 2012, 10:17 pm

DUBLIN, Ohio – Luke Donald goes into the U.S. Open ranked No. 1 in the world, and to listen to the casual golf observer, that can only mean one thing.

There must be a better system.

Luke Donald?

He is not an imposing figure like Vijay Singh or Ernie Els. He doesn't have a personality that can take over the room like Greg Norman or Seve Ballesteros. He doesn't have 14 majors like Tiger Woods, or any majors at all, for that matter.

There is little about Donald that looks like the No. 1 golfer.

He just plays like it.

'There's always going to be people who look at my game and say, 'He's No. 1?' That's just the way is,' Donald said. 'Whether they do or not, I don't really focus on that. I focus on what I can control, and that's just working hard. But I think I'm forcing people to respect me now. It's getting to that point that I'm not going away.'

To look at the golf – and not just the golfer – there should be little question.

Donald has won six times in the last 18 months, more than any other player in the world. When his only option was winning, Donald birdied six straight holes to start the back nine Sunday at Disney, a clutch performance with historical significance. That win allowed him to become the first player to capture the money title on both sides of the Atlantic in the same season.

Even so, when U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy first went to No. 1 in March by winning the Honda Classic, there was a feeling the 23-year-old from Northern Ireland would stay there. Three times since then, Donald took it back, twice by winning.

Perhaps a U.S. Open title at Olympic Club would help change the perception. Or maybe not.

'I think the public wants a No. 1 like Phil (Mickelson), Tiger or Rory,' Stewart Cink said. 'Luke is a nice, unassuming guy. He gets it done with his putting, with his short game, with his wedges. That's not the dramatic stuff a lot of people want to see. They want to see the long ball. They want to see Tiger making dramatic putts.'

But is it the stuff Donald's peers wish they had?

'Shoot, yeah,' Cink said. 'The ones who play do, not the ones who watch. But that's why they're watching.'

What makes Donald's rise to No. 1 so remarkable is that for so many years, his performance was barely above ordinary – and perhaps that's why some people struggle to give him his full measure of respect.

Lee Westwood is the only other player to be No. 1 without ever having won a major. But he reached No. 4 in the world early in his career, he won the Order of Merit in Europe at age 27 and was seen as a potential threat for years to come until he was derailed by a slump.

That was never the case with Donald. For most of his career, he was regarded as a mild-mannered Englishman who won an NCAA title at Northwestern and majored in art.

This, however, is not the same Luke Donald.

'He was the same player for 10 years,' Geoff Ogilvy said. 'He made a slight improvement, as people do when they get older. But two years ago, he obviously made a conscious decision that, `I'm going to do things differently.' Whatever it was, it was a big difference. Because he's clearly the best player.'

The 34-year-old Donald began changing after he had to miss the second half of 2008 with a wrist injury, brought on by trying to hit the ball farther. In one of the tougher decisions, he decided to replace his brother as his caddie with John McLaren. Even more pivotal was bringing in Dave Alred, a performance guru from Britain who is famous for working with rugby players such as Jonny Wilkinson.

Wilkinson wanted Donald to be a killer on the golf course.

'I suppose I lacked a little ruthlessness,' Donald said. 'That was my nature, coming from England. Dave wants me to be the hunter, not the fisherman. He talks about how a fisherman throws it out there and hopes to get a fish. A hunter goes out there and he's going to go straight between your eyes. That's the vibe and feel Dave is after.

'He wants me to be that assassin,' Donald said, pausing to smile. 'And I'm trying hard for him.'

McLaren recalls the time years ago, before he went to work as his caddie, when he was in Chicago and stayed at Donald's apartment. He heard him talk about his aspirations, perhaps one day being No. 1 in the world.

'I remember thinking it was ambitious, to say the least,' McLaren said. 'The game we know that Tiger Woods created, you wouldn't think someone of Luke's athletic proportions could be No. 1. We're so used to the very best in any sport being big characters, big athletes. I always thought he'd be up against that.'

But when he first caddied for Donald in 2010, he noticed a different player, a different person.

'I suppose the biggest shock for me was how tough he is,' McLaren said. 'He can be quite cutting at times. When we first started, I thought, `Hmm, you've got a streak in you I didn't know you had.' I always thought he was very unassuming. Luke is fiercely competitive. He hides it well by being very English. He's well educated, well brought up. The fire burns, he just doesn't let anyone know it.'

McLaren got another glimpse of that when McIlroy went to No. 1 at the Honda Classic, and Donald became yesterday's news. It was natural for attention to shift to McIlroy, especially after his record-setting win at the U.S. Open the previous summer at Congressional. Then, McIlroy came out of nowhere with a 65-67 weekend at Doral and nearly won a World Golf Championship. This was McIlroy's time.

The next week, Donald shot 66 at Innisbrook and hit a clutch shot out of the rough to win a playoff.

He was right back at No. 1.

'Rory goes and wins the U.S. Open by eight shots, and everyone stopped talking about Luke,' Ogilvy said. 'And he was like, `Hold on, here I am,' and he goes and wins another tournament. And he's been doing that for 12 months, hasn't he? Every time the question has been asked, he's answered it.'

One major question remains.

Donald made a strong bid at the Masters last year and tied for fourth. That's as late in the final round as he has ever contended in a major. He has shown mettle at other tournaments, such as beating Westwood at Wentworth in a playoff last year to first get to No. 1, closing with 64 at Disney in a rare do-or-die moment in golf. His win at the Match Play Championship last year remains the most ruthless performance ever at that event. In six matches, Donald never trailed once and never reached the 18th hole.

'I've won some big tournaments over the years,' Donald said. 'I'm figuring out the majors. I'm hoping I'll be like Ben Hogan and win eight after I'm 35. I'm really starting to figure out myself, how I deal with pressure. I'm getting a lot closer. I'm finding ways to win tournaments, and hopefully, that will carry into winning majors.'

Mickelson won his first major at 33. Padraig Harrington won the first of his three majors at 35.

'For a lot of years, the Tiger factor fooled us into thinking you come out at 20 and dominate,' Adam Scott said. 'That last happened in 1962 (with Jack Nicklaus). Greg Norman dominated the game in his 30s and 40s. Ben Hogan didn't win a major until he was 33. Some players mature later. Some people peak at 18 and never get any better. Luke is a bit of a grinder. He has stepped up his game and found out what worked. It's clear in my mind that right now, he's the best player in the world.'

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G-Mac has Ryder Cup on mind with Genesis in grasp

By Rex HoggardFebruary 18, 2018, 2:12 am

LOS ANGELES – Graeme McDowell is four years removed from his last start in a Ryder Cup and golf is more than seven months away from this year’s matches, but then it’s never too early to start daydreaming.

Following a third-round 70 that left him tied for third place and just two strokes off the lead at the Genesis Open, McDowell was asked if the matches are on his mind.

“I feel like I've got a lot of things to do between now and getting on that team,” he said. “Standing here right now it's probably not a realistic goal, but if I continue to play the way I'm playing for the next few months, it may start to become a realistic goal.”


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McDowell began his week at Riviera Country Club fresh off four consecutive missed cuts and has drifted to 219th in the Official World Golf Ranking. But his play this week has been encouraging and the Northern Irishman has always relished the opportunity to play for Europe.

“Deep down I know I'm good enough, but I've got to show, I've got to put some results on the board, I've got to take care of my business,” he said. “The greatest experience of my career bar none, and I would love to play another couple Ryder Cup matches before it's all said and done.”

McDowell does have a potential advantage this year having won the French Open twice at Le Golf National, site of this year’s matches.

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Bubba on McGrady block: 'Just trying not to get hurt'

By Will GrayFebruary 18, 2018, 1:56 am

LOS ANGELES – A detour to the NBA Celebrity All-Star Game didn’t keep Bubba Watson from leading this week’s Genesis Open, although an on-court brush with Hall of Famer Tracy McGrady nearly derailed his chances for a third tournament win.

Watson enters the final round at Riviera with a one-shot lead over Patrick Cantlay after firing a 6-under 65 in the third round. The day before, the southpaw left the course around lunch time and headed across town to participate in the All-Star festivities, where during the celebrity game he tried to score 1-on-1 over McGrady.

Watson’s move into the lane went about as well as you’d expect given their five-inch height disparity, with McGrady easily blocking the ball into the stands. According to Watson, he had only one thought as McGrady came barreling towards him across the lane.

“When I saw him, all I saw was, ‘This is my moment to get hurt,’” Watson said. “This big tank is about to hit me, and I was like, ‘Just knock it into the stands. Just don’t touch me.’ So it worked out, he didn’t touch me so it was good.”


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Watson’s attempt went against his wife Angie’s advice to avoid the paint area, but it provided a fun moment for a player used to carving up fairways and greens – not to mention the guy who played 15 seasons in the NBA.

“Well, he’s got like just under 800 blocks for his career, so I gave him one more, you know?” Watson said. “It was just, it was a blast. I wanted to see how good he was, see if he could miss it. He hasn’t played in a while.”

Watson took some heat on Twitter from his PGA Tour peers for the rejection, but few were still laughing as he rocketed up the leaderboard Saturday with five birdies and an eagle. Now he has a chance to win this event for the third time since 2014 – even if he doesn’t plan to go toe-to-toe with McGrady again anytime soon.

“Some guys wanted to try to win MVP, so I was trying to pass it and let them have their fun and their moment,” Watson said. “I was just trying not to get hurt.”

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Spieth on third-round 69: 'Putter saved me'

By Rex HoggardFebruary 18, 2018, 1:37 am

LOS ANGELES – Jordan Spieth has spent the last few weeks talking about his putting for all the wrong reasons.

Two weeks ago when he missed the cut at the Waste Management Phoenix Open he lost 3.76 shots to the field in strokes-gained putting, and last week he wasn’t much better.

It looked like more of the same at the Genesis Open when he lost about a half stroke to the field on Day 1 with 29 putts, but since then his fortunes on the greens have gotten progressively better.

“I thought each day last week I progressed,” said Spieth, who needed just 24 putts on Friday and moved into a tie for 20th after taking 26 putts on Day 3.


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Spieth said he started to feel things turn around at Pebble Beach after working with his swing coach Cameron McCormick and Steve Stricker, who has become something of a putting sounding board for players on Tour.

“I got set up really nice. I got really comfortable on the greens even though they were very difficult to putt last week and this week,” said Spieth, who rolled in a birdie putt of 14 feet at No. 12 and a par putt of 35 feet at No. 14. “Any putt, I either made it or I left it just short today. It was one of those days that with the way I struck the ball, it was an off day, but that putter saved me and allowed me to shoot the lowest score so far this week.”

Spieth’s third-round 69 is his best of the week and moved him to within seven strokes of the lead, which is held by Bubba Watson.

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Bouncing back: Watson seeks a third Riviera win

By Rex HoggardFebruary 18, 2018, 1:25 am

LOS ANGELES – Yeah, but can Tracy McGrady smoke a 7-iron from 203 yards to kick-in range for eagle on Riviera Country Club’s opening hole?

The way Bubba Watson’s mind drifts there’s no telling if, as he began his day at the Genesis Open, he revisited his play from Friday night at the NBA All-Star Celebrity Game. If he did, it would have been an apropos conclusion after McGrady sent his weak floater into the cheap seats midway through the second quarter.

Either way, Watson made it clear playtime was over on Saturday. The eagle at the opening par 4 ½ sent Watson on his way to a third-round 65 and the outright lead at the Left Coast event that’s starting to feel like a second home for the lefthander.

In 11 starts at Riviera, Watson already has two victories. A third on Sunday could get folks talking about renaming the layout Bubba’s Alley. Or not.

What is certain is that Watson has emerged from a funk that sent him tumbling outside the top 100 in the world ranking and he’s done it in quintessential Bubba style.

If Friday’s detour to the celebrity game received worldwide attention it was only a snapshot of Watson’s Tinseltown itinerary. He taped a segment for Jay Leno’s Garage show, visited with Ellen DeGeneres and watched a taping of The Big Bang Theory. You know, L.A. stuff.

Oh, and he’s curved and carved his way around Riviera with signature abandon.

“You've got to hit shots from every different angle, you've got to move it right to left and left to right, so it's just fun,” said Watson, who also led by one stroke when he won here in 2016, his last victory on the PGA Tour. “Then the greens are the equalizer so it makes me look like I putt as good as the other guys.”


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He “hammered” a 7-iron from 203 yards at the first to 1 ½ feet for his opening eagle, chipped in at the sixth to begin a run of four birdies in five holes and played the three par 5s in 3 under to move into a familiar spot after enduring his worst season on Tour in 2017 when he failed to advance past the second playoff event.

That he’s turned the tide in Los Angeles is as predictable as it is peculiar. Despite Watson’s record at the Genesis Open, Riviera wouldn’t seem to be the tonic for all that ails Bubba.

Ask a player - any player will do - the keys to playing Riviera and the answers range wildly from it being a bomber’s course to the need for ball-striking precision. But the word that comes up with regularity is "patience."

“Patience and pretty much just not being stupid, to be honest,” Justin Thomas said when asked the key to his third-round 67 that left him tied for eighth place. “Just stop trying to hit at pins with 5-irons and 6-irons, and when I hit in the rough, realize just try to make a par. When I get in places, when I'm out of position, realize that sometimes even bogey is what I need to make.”

While that thought dovetails with conventional wisdom, Watson’s not exactly known for his patience.

“Oh, for sure I do. Haven't you seen me in the last 12 years?” Watson laughed when asked if he had patience on the course. “The tougher the golf course, the more focus I have. The tougher the shot, I've been able to focus better. When I get my mind on something, I can focus and do pretty well at the game of golf.”

While Bubba drifts between artist and antagonist with ease, both on and off the golf course, his primary challenge on Sunday is the picture of thoughtful composure.

Patrick Cantlay, who returned to the Tour last season after struggling with back issues for years, began the third round with a share of the lead but quickly faded on the front nine. He rallied on the closing loop with birdies at Nos. 10, 11 and 18, where he capped his day with a 54-footer that assured him a spot in Sunday’s final threesome. Although he’s just 25 and playing his first full season on Tour, Cantlay’s approach to the game is patently different from Watson’s.

“I feel like if I can just engage and not worry about where I am on a particular hole or what's going on and I just engage and stay present in whatever I'm doing at that particular time, it all turns out better than what you would expect,” explained Cantlay, who attended nearby UCLA and played dozens of practice rounds at Riviera. “Making sure you stay present and having that confidence in yourself that if you just click in and focus, it all will be good and that's kind of the head space I'm in.”

It will be a clash of wildly contrasting styles on Sunday – Watson, who admitted he “(doesn’t) focus very well,” and Cantlay, whose approach to the mental side of the game borders on the clinical.

One player relishes the challenge of hyper-focus, the other is Bubba, but that’s not to say Watson is void of patience, only that he needs to be properly motivated.

“Like last night when Tracy McGrady was coming at me, I was focused on not getting hurt and I didn't, so it worked out,” Watson smiled.

And besides, T-Mac can’t bomb it like Bubba.