Donald Thinks Added Distance Plays in His Favor


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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