Donald adds excitement to steadiness


ORLANDO, Fla. – One of the game’s most reluctant showmen, Luke Donald, highlights this week’s lineup following another showstopper performance on Sunday at Innisbrook while an original headliner, Arnold Palmer, seems to have lost some of his appeal at Bay Hill.

Made Cut

Luke Donald. Late last year Pat Goss, Donald’s affable swing coach, was taking stock in his man’s season when the thought occurred, “He played some historic rounds under unique situations.”

The Englishman’s climb to the top of the world’s heap has been nothing short of dramatic. Last summer he outdueled reigning No. 1 Lee Westwood in a playoff at the BMW PGA Championship to claim the top spot in the World Golf Ranking.

In the fall he went one better, winning the season-ending stop at Disney to become the first player to collect the Cash Slam, money titles on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.

Donald’s most recent heroics came on Sunday at the Transitions Championship when he won a four-man playoff to reclaim the top spot from Rory McIlroy.

Seems the guy who used to be known for quietly piling up the top 10s has acquired a flair for the dramatic.

Tweet of the week: @Graeme_McDowell “Pitch dark on way to Bay Hill for Round 2. Played good yesterday, didn’t get it going on greens. Should be pure this morning. #golow”

OK, so it’s not exactly Babe Ruth calling his shot, but G-Mac did sign for a 63 on Friday.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

Tiger Woods. No one in golf knows their body better than Woods and when he bolted Doral on Sunday after 11 ¼ holes with a tight Achilles tendon the decision was prudent and perfectly understandable.

Major championships are won in April in Georgia, not in March in south Florida.

However, news this week that Red Shirt slipped in a quick 18 at Augusta National on Sunday before his two-day member-member at the Tavistock Cup and the Arnold Palmer Invitational doesn’t exactly fit the photo of a player on a pitch count.

It will all add up to eight consecutive days of golf, and four tournaments in five weeks, hardly heavy lifting for most Tour types but a crowded dance card for a patient . . . eh, player with multiple knee surgeries and a glass Achilles.

Tough to second-guess a guy who pulled clear of the pack on Friday with a ball-striking clinic but after his Doral WD Woods said the new guy is content erring on the side of safety over false bravado. With two weeks to go before the Masters, we really miss the new guy right now.

Ernie Els. Nothing seems to come easy to the big South African any longer, particularly not a game that he once seemed to mock with that effortless action.

Sunday may not go down as “rock bottom” when the final scorecard is tallied, but Els’ closing collapse at Innisbrook certainly felt like ground zero.

Els missed two putts totaling 8 ½ feet coming down the stretch to finish a stroke out of a playoff and a title that earlier in his career he figured, “I would have made that putt and won the tournament by two or three shots.”

The Big Easy still has one more chance to crack the top 50 in the World Ranking and earn a spot into the Masters at this week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational. More importantly, the way he’s played under pressure the last few weeks proves that he’ll also have a couple more chances to win. At this point, that’s the only silver lining.

Missed Cut

Nationwide Tour/Q-School. Predictably this will come down to the details.

The broad strokes of the new plan to make the Nationwide Tour the primary avenue to PGA Tour membership and Q-School a feeder system to the secondary circuit have been in place for some time and were the worst-kept secret on Tour since the invention of stopwatches proved that these guys are, indeed, slow.

It’s the small print that remains and according to this week’s announcement there are still plenty of details to iron out, including how players would be seeded for the three-event series that will ultimately award 50 Tour cards and how many FedEx Cup points the old Fall Series events will be given.

Considering Q-School’s drastically reduced status, it also remains to be seen if the Tour will still charge potential members upwards of $6,000 to play the Fall Classic.

“Great question by an aspiring pro buddy of mine, ‘Will Q-School be 1/10th the price now since the purses on t he Nationwide Tour are 10 times smaller (than on the PGA Tour)?’” wondered one Tour veteran.

A king’s crossroads. It is, as Mel Brooks opined in the cult comedy classic “History of the World Part 1,” good to be the king, unless your kingdom is a converted orange grove that has been tinkered with to the point of irrelevancy and you find yourself wedged between two World Golf Championships, the year’s first major and two of the circuit’s most-liked golf courses.

Bay Hill is, by almost every measure, the fourth-best layout on the Florida swing and its spot on the schedule is less than perfect, but players show up at the API because it is Arnold Palmer’s tournament.

Sadly, that trump card has faded in recent years and on Wednesday Palmer was asked about the high-profile no-shows this week of Nos. 1 and 2, Donald and McIlroy.

“I'm certainly not happy that those fellows chose not to come this year. We are doing everything we can to entice them to come and play,” Palmer said. “But I think we can get that squared away and maybe we'll entice them to come in the future.”

Perhaps, but McIlroy's and Donald’s absences are not a new trend. Between 2007 and 2011 the World Ranking points Bay Hill winners have received has dropped from 68 to 58, respectively. And this year’s total had dropped to 56 points for the winner, the third-lowest in the Florida Swing behind the Honda Classic (50).

Palmer is still the game’s undisputed King, but his namesake doesn’t draw a court like it used to.