AKRON, Ohio – Under a clear, blue, early Thursday afternoon sky, Luke Donald is doing what Luke Donald does best. His ball firmly entrenched in the bunker directly left of the ninth green – his final hole of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational opening round – Donald extricates it with the delicate touch of a surgeon, then calmly raps in a 3-foot par putt to punctuate a 4-under 66 total.
The impressive up-and-down that Donald decrees all too normal on a regular basis and its resulting score are each met with a smattering of applause from the relatively sparse gallery. Relatively sparse, that is, for one of the tournament’s co-leaders at the time and relatively sparse for the game’s No. 1-ranked player.
That isn’t a knock against the ever-burgeoning northeast Ohio crowds. It’s more of a statement on the reception Donald finds on a week-in, week-out basis – at least here in the United States, where his lack of a rainbow-colored wardrobe, lack of a silver tongue and lack of a major championship leave him with a lack of due respect. The truth is, he’s a snappy dresser, is among PGA Tour leaders in eloquence and the major, well, he’s working on that.
Even so, he’s got a little bit of Rodney Dangerfield in him right now – and not always the Al Czervik-everybody-loves-me kind.
“Amongst my peers, yeah, absolutely,” Donald says about the respect he receives. “Obviously there isn't as much fanfare around me. I kind of go about my business. You know, I don't really know how to answer that. I think certainly the fact that I haven't won a major distracts away from some of the fan base, and I understand that. But in terms of myself and knowing what got me there, I'm certainly very proud of everything I've done.”
If, as the old baseball commercial stated, “chicks dig the long ball,” then it takes a special kind of connoisseur to dig the wedge-and-putter game.
It may not be sexy – Donald isn’t Bubba Watson bending approach shots around trees or Phil Mickelson flopping ‘em from hardpan lies – but that’s the type of game that wins tournaments, even if it doesn’t necessarily win fans and influence people.
“I’m not too sure the fans follow the No. 1 player in the world just because he’s the No. 1 player in the world,” says caddie John MacLaren. “Tiger [Woods] is one of the greatest players who’s ever lived and he does have that special quality that perhaps Rory [McIlroy] has and very few players have that – it’s not just handed out to everyone. So I think that’s probably what they follow, the extraordinary talent as opposed to No. 1 in the world.
“His achievements are better than anyone else playing the game in the last year-and-a-half, but I’m not sure the American public quite gets that. They do in Europe, I can assure you of that.”
Donald is currently in his fourth stint atop the Official World Golf Ranking, totaling 55 overall weeks so far. Treat the OWGR as gospel or dispute its importance, there’s no denying the fact that any player elevated via formulaic equation to the No. 1 ranking for more than a full year of his career deserves a modicum of respect for the achievement.
Still, each week headlines blare the potential scenarios for other players to overtake Donald atop the world order. This week is no different.
If Woods wins and Donald finishes third or worse, Woods will be the new No. 1. If McIlroy wins and Donald finishes 12th or worse, McIlroy will be the new No. 1.
Well, how about this scenario: If Donald keeps playing the way he’s been playing for the past 18 months, the new No. 1 will be the same as the old No. 1.
Since the beginning of 2011, Donald has competed in 41 events worldwide, compiling 26 top-10 finishes and a half-dozen victories. Last year, he won the money titles on both the PGA and European tours in unprecedented fashion. He isn’t the game’s longest hitter nor is he the most electric, but he easily has the consistency title locked up.
“I love being No. 1,” he maintains. “It just reminds me of how consistent and how well I've played the last couple years. I mean, it's a great plus in terms of the mental side, just knowing the results that got me there. I think it's great to be there and it pushes me harder to work harder to try and stay there, as well.”
The bull’s-eye firmly affixed to his back once again, Donald keeps on doing what he does best. On a course that shouldn’t suit his game at 7,400 yards, he has now posted five consecutive under-par rounds, following last year’s runner-up finish with another strong start this week.
It may not be the brand of golf that wows spectators and draws rave reviews, but it is the type that delivers results. And that’s all Luke Donald really needs.