Donald lacks respect befitting world No. 1

By Jason SobelAugust 2, 2012, 6:34 pm

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.

Getty Images

Berger more than ready to rebound at Travelers

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:54 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Daniel Berger hopes that this year he gets to be on the other end of a viral moment at the Travelers Championship.

Berger was a hard-luck runner-up last year at TPC River Highlands, a spectator as Jordan Spieth holed a bunker shot to defeat him in a playoff. It was the second straight year that the 25-year-old came up just short outside Hartford, as he carried a three-shot lead into the 2016 event before fading to a tie for fifth.

While he wasn’t lacking any motivation after last year’s close call, Berger got another dose last week at the U.S. Open when he joined Tony Finau as a surprise participant in the final group Sunday, only to shoot a 73 and drift to a T-6 finish.

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

“It was one of the best experiences of my professional golf career so far. I feel like I’m going to be in such a better place next time I’m in that position, having felt those emotions and kind of gone through it,” Berger said. “There was a lot of reflection after that because I felt like I played good enough to get it done Sunday. I didn’t make as many putts as I wanted to, but I hit a lot of really good putts. And that’s really all you can do.”

Berger missed the cut earlier this month to end his quest for three straight titles in Memphis, but his otherwise consistent season has now included six top-20 finishes since January. After working his way into contention last week and still with a score to settle at TPC River Highlands, he’s eager to get back to work against another star-studded field.

“I think all these experiences you just learn from,” Berger said. “I think last week, having learned from that, I think that’s even going to make me a little better this week. So I’m excited to get going.”

Getty Images

Rory tired of the near-misses, determined to close

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:46 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Rory McIlroy has returned to the Travelers Championship with an eye on bumping up his winning percentage.

McIlroy stormed from the back of the pack to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, but that remains his lone worldwide win since the 2016 Tour Championship. It speaks to McIlroy’s considerable ability and lofty expectations that, even with a number of other high finishes this season, he is left unsatisfied.

“I feel like I’ve had five realistic chances to win this year, and I’ve been able to close out one of them. That’s a bit disappointing, I guess,” McIlroy said. “But at least I’ve given myself five chances to win golf tournaments, which is much more than I did last year.”

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

The most memorable of McIlroy’s near-misses is likely the Masters, when he played alongside Patrick Reed in Sunday’s final group but struggled en route to a T-5 finish. But more frustrating in the Ulsterman’s eyes were his runner-up at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, when he led by two shots with eight holes to go, and a second-place showing behind Francesco Molinari at the BMW PGA Championship in May.

“There’s been some good golf in there,” he said. “I feel like I let Dubai and Wentworth get away a little bit.”

He’ll have a chance to rectify that trend this week at TPC River Highlands, where he finished T-17 last year in his tournament debut and liked the course and the tournament enough to keep it on his schedule. It comes on the heels of a missed cut at the U.S. Open, when he was 10 over through 11 holes and never got on track. McIlroy views that result as more of an aberration during a season in which he has had plenty of chances to contend on the weekend.

“I didn’t necessarily play that badly last week. I feel like if I play similarly this week, I might have a good chance to win,” McIlroy said. “I think when you play in conditions like that, it magnifies parts of your game that maybe don’t stack up quite as good as the rest of your game, and it magnified a couple of things for me that I worked on over the weekend.”

Getty Images

Sunday run at Shinnecock gave Reed even more confidence

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:08 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – While many big names are just coming around to the notion that the Travelers Championship is worth adding to the schedule, Patrick Reed has been making TPC River Highlands one of his favorite haunts for years.

Reed will make his seventh straight appearance outside Hartford, where he tied for fifth last year and was T-11 the year before that. He is eager to get back to the grind after a stressful week at the U.S. Open, both because of his past success here and because it will offer him a chance to build on a near-miss at Shinnecock Hills.

Reed started the final round three shots off the lead, but he quickly stormed toward the top of the leaderboard and became one of Brooks Koepka’s chief threats after birdies on five of his first seven holes. Reed couldn’t maintain the momentum in the middle of the round, carding three subsequent bogeys, and ultimately tied for fourth.

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

It was a bittersweet result, but Reed is focusing on the positives after taking a couple days to reflect.

“If you would have told me that I had a chance to win coming down Sunday, I would have been pleased,” Reed said. “I felt like I just made too many careless mistakes towards the end, and because of that, you’re not going to win at any major making careless mistakes, especially on Sunday.”

Reed broke through for his first major title at the Masters, and he has now finished fourth or better in three straight majors dating back to a runner-up at the PGA last summer. With another chance to add to that record next month in Scotland, he hopes to carry the energy from last week’s close call into this week’s event on a course where he feels right at home.

“It just gives me confidence, more than anything,” Reed said. “Of course I would have loved to have closed it out and win, but it was a great week all in all, and there’s a lot of stuff I can take from it moving forward. That’s how I’m looking at it.”

Getty Images

Koepka back to work, looking to add to trophy collection

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 8:53 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Days after ensuring the U.S. Open trophy remained in his possession for another year, Brooks Koepka went back to work.

Koepka flew home to Florida after successfully defending his title at Shinnecock Hills, celebrating the victory Monday night with Dustin Johnson, Paulina Gretzky, swing coach Claude Harmon III and a handful of close friends. But he didn’t fully unwind because of a decision to honor his commitment to the Travelers Championship, becoming the first player to tee it up the week after a U.S. Open win since Justin Rose in 2013.

Koepka withdrew from the Travelers pro-am, but he flew north to Connecticut on Wednesday and arrived to TPC River Highlands around 3 p.m., quickly heading to the driving range to get in a light practice session.

“It still hasn’t sunk in, to be honest with you,” Koepka said. “I’m still focused on this week. It was just like, ‘All right, if I can get through this week, then I’m going to be hanging with my buddies next week.’ I know then maybe it’ll sink in, and I’ll get to reflect on it a little bit more.”

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Koepka’s plans next week with friends in Boston meant this week’s event outside Hartford made logistical sense. But he was also motivated to play this week because, plainly, he hasn’t had that many playing opportunities this year after missing nearly four months with a wrist injury.

“I’ve had so many months at home being on the couch. I don’t need to spend any more time on the couch,” Koepka said. “As far as skipping, it never crossed my mind.”

Koepka’s legacy was undoubtedly bolstered by his win at Shinnecock, as he became the first player in nearly 30 years to successfully defend a U.S. Open title. But he has only one other PGA Tour win to his credit, that being the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open, and his goal for the rest of the season is to make 2018 his first year with multiple trophies on the mantle.

“If you’re out here for more than probably 15 events, it gives you a little better chance to win a couple times. Being on the sidelines isn’t fun,” Koepka said. “Keep doing what we’re doing and just try to win multiple times every year. I feel like I have the talent. I just never did it for whatever reason. Always felt like we ran into a buzzsaw. So just keep plugging away.”