Posted on: February 23, 2012 11:32 am
Edited on: February 23, 2012 1:05 pm

McIlroy loaded for Bear this spring

Rory McIlroy hits a shot in his first round win at the Accenture. (Getty Images)

By Steve Elling

MARANA, Ariz. -- Like Jack Nicklaus' home haunt needs more star power.

With a high-end course in West Palm Beach, Fla., that already includes No. 1 Luke Donald and formerly top-ranked Ernie Els as members, the player anointed as a sure future No. 1 is going to be hanging around, too.

World No. 2 Rory McIlroy, 22, has rented a home in the Jupiter area, through the Players Championship in May, and said he will be spending his time in the States working out of the Bear's Club, the place Nicklaus designed a few years back which serves as his Florida home base.

McIlroy said he will play three straight events starting this week at the Accenture Match play, followed by the Honda Classic and Doral, two events within a few miles of his new South Florida abode. He will take the next three weeks off before playing the Masters.

McIlroy is a member of the PGA Tour this year.

With Els and Donald, that's some serious firepower playing out of the increasingly famous Nicklaus club.

"We could do our own Tavistock [Cup]," Donald cracked earlier this week.

Based on a certain prescribed outcome, McIlroy could unseat Donald as No. 1 with a victory this week. After winning his opening match against George Coetzee, McIlroy faces Anders Hansen of Denmark on Thursday.

Dustin Johnson, Keegan Bradley and Camilo Villegas also play out of the Bear's Club. Not bad. Not at all. 

For more golf news, rumors and analysis, follow Steve Elling and Eye On Golf on Twitter. 

Posted on: February 22, 2012 7:25 pm
Edited on: February 23, 2012 12:16 pm

No. 1 Donald gets dispatched, well, big and easy

By Steve Elling 

MARANA, Ariz. -- OK, so the opponent was Ernie Els, a former world No. 1 and a seven-time winner at the European Tour's match-play event.

Defending champion Luke Donald would have had trouble beating practically anybody in the first round of the Accenture Match Play Championship on Wednesday.

"I don't think it would have mattered who I played today," said Donald, the top-seeded player in the field and the current world No. 1. "I just didn't play well."

He didn't play long, either.

Els hammered Donald, 5 and 4, closing out the defending champion with four birdies in their 14 holes, though that wasn;t so much the determining factor.

Donald, one of themost unerring players of the era, was all over the map and made four bogeys, making it easy for the Big Easy.

"I'm not sure where to start," Donald said. "I just didn't play well. It's disappointing. I;ve been working really hard.To lose control of the golf ball like I did today is really frustrating."

It marked the third time in event history that the No. 1 overall seed was kicked to the curb on the first day of play, with Donald joining early departures Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker.

Given the seeding and ranking, it lends new meaning to "one and done."

"I gave away too many holes and made too many mistakes," Donald said. "You can't do that in match play against anyone, let alone Ernie."

Posted on: February 22, 2012 11:59 am
Edited on: February 22, 2012 12:54 pm

Accenture matches about aptitude, altitude

By Steve Elling 

MARANA, Ariz. -- According to the host venue's website, certain points of the Dove Mountain course are located at 3,200 feet above sea level. For those who watched the Accenture Match Play Championship's final pairing last year, when it snowed and hailed, that's certainly no news flash.

For a PGA Tour player, the territorial elements can create unique environmental issues. Or, in the case of this particular track, three of them.

Players teeing off early face the very real prospect that the ball will feel like a piece of desert rock. Temperatures overnight routinely dive down close to freezing. The first matches Wednesday started at 7:25 a.m. local time.

"It's so cold, the ball might even go shorter," Charl Schwartzel said.

So players have to plan around the environmental issues more than usual. Rory McIlroy intentionally waited to play his practice round Tuesday to that it was conducted during the same time frame as his first-round match, for instance. Because, as the weather warms up, the ball can really start to fly. The desert air is notoriously dry, which means the ball takes off like a rocket, especially at this altitude.

"I mean, all the par-5s are reachable," Schwartzel said.

They are listed on the card Wednesday at 573, 579, 599 and 583 yards. The course overall is listed at around 7,800 yards but can play 5-10 percent shorter, morning coldness and occasional winds notwithstanding.

Or even shorter than that, for some.

"It actually depends on how far you hit it in the air," McIlroy said.

Or how hot it gets. The forecast calls for a zero-percent chance of rain and temperatures in the mid-to-upper 70s.

"I think when it gets warmer, which it's meant to, and the adrenalin kicks in, it's close to 10 percent," defending champion and world No. 1 Luke Donald said of the flighting disparity versus sea level tracks like, say, Pebble Beach or Riviera.

"You take the sum of the elevations and the 10 percent difference, suddenly at 250 yards you're hitting a 4 iron, when usually that's a pretty good 3-wood for me. It takes a little bit of getting used to. [Caddie] John [McLaren] and I have done a pretty good job in the last couple of years."

Posted on: October 23, 2011 7:18 pm
Edited on: October 23, 2011 7:35 pm

Storybook finish gives Donald a Disney win

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The writing was already on the wall -- or in golf terms, the scoreboard.

A day earlier, the situation had been similarly scripted in his telephone.

World No. 1 Luke Donald's caddie sent his boss a text message that attempted to buoy his hopes, and given that Donald started the final round with a five-stroke deficit, any positive puffery was surely welcome.

"I texted him last night and said that we hadn’t really had a good run yet," caddie Gareth Lord said. "But I didn’t really expect him to do this."

Only the most delusional Disney dreamer could have conjured it up.

Saving the best for last, Donald authored one of the most memorable endings in PGA Tour history, making 10 birdies in his first 15 holes at the season finale to win the Children's Miracle Network Hospitals Classic by two strokes, and claiming the U.S. money title in the process.

"It's hard to put into words," he said. "It's one of the most satisfying wins of my career, because it was do or die."

It was the jaw-dropping fare that Disney makes movies about. If it had been any more outlandish, it would have been animated.

Seemingly buried after a bogey at the eighth hole left him five shots back and tied for 10th place, Donald birdied the first six holes of the back nine in the most crystalline, crisp display of clutch play in his career, finishing with an 8-under 64 that represented the lowest closing round of the season by an eventual winner.

"This was a dream year," said Donald, 34, who has four worldwide wins, two on the PGA Tour. "I think I answered a lot of critics' questions."

In a season that was punctuated by a bazillion question marks as far as honors and awards, Donald ended it with a series of exclamation points.

Not originally committed to play Disney, he added the tournament at the commitment deadline after Webb Simpson passed him last week on the money list, knocking Donald to No. 2 in U.S. earnings. Seeking to become the first player to top both the PGA and European tours in money, Donald added Disney, the finale in the States.

"Having this amount on the line, coming up and shooting 30 on the back nine on Sunday, finding the shots when I needed to, really will mean a lot to me and the people that I work with," Donald said.

In the process, he became the seventh player to record two wins in the States this year -- nobody has more -- and if you believe in the recency theory, he should be loading up his mantel in Chicago with all the major hardware the tour has on offer.

He clinched the prestigious Vardon Trophy for the lowest stroke average, claimed the Arnold Palmer award for topping the money list and should have placed a stranglehold on the Player of the Year, unless his tour brethren are in a catatonic stupor when they fill out their ballots, which will be mailed this week.

Donald did all that with the most personally rewarding and gratifying display of his life, knowing that he had to win this week to have a reasonable chance of catching Simpson, with whom he was paired all four days. Indeed, as though the tension wasn't ratcheted up enough, Simpson held a two-shot lead over the Englishman with eight holes to play.

Win the tournament? He was getting waxed by the guy in his own threesome.

"I had to really dig deep to find the energy to do that," said Donald, who has played nine of the last 12 weeks, all over the planet.

They had to dig deep to find a base of comparison for what he accomplished. The last time a player came from behind to win the U.S. money list on the season's final day was in 1996, when Donald was still a schoolboy.

"At that point, I had to pull something out of a hat -- a rabbit out of a hat," he said of the back-nine climb. "Although a rabbit's not really Disney."

It was darned Disneyesque enough. Like a rabbit, the birdies started reproducing quickly.

Considered one of the best putters in the game, he made 84 feet of birdie putts in his six-birdie run starting on No. 10, including a 19-footer on the 14th hole, which he had played in 3-over par in his first two tries. Then he topped that with a 45-foot bomb on the 15th, which the typically understated veteran celebrated with a couple of fist pumps, a yell, and a grim big enough to be featured in the theme park's nightly fireworks show.

Never a place that has attracted big galleries, fans started migrating to Donald's group.

"I thought, 'I ought to watch some of this,'" said Orange County Sheriffs captain Michael Osborne, who was assigned to the group's security contingent. "But when the fans started showing up, I actually had to do my job."

With a few dozen British fans in the gallery throng, the yells of Luuuuuuke began permeating the air every few moments. Meanwhile, back home in suburban Chicago, his wife Diane, who is two weeks away from her due date for delivering the couple's second child, was shopping for a baby gear as her hubbie stumbled on the eighth hole. Three hours later, she was playfully asking whether they should name their soon-to-be-newborn daughter "Minnie Donald."

Well, that has a better ring than Ralph. Donald's longtime clothier, Ralph Lauren, has to pony up a seven-figure bonus because Luke topped the U.S. tour in earnings, which will buy a whole lotta baby gear. It was all a bit overwhelming.

"You drive through Disney and there's a sign that says, 'This is where dreams come true,'" Donald said.

It seemed more like deliriums.

He's halfway to a professional first. Donald leads the European Tour money list by roughly $1.8 million, and though he plans to take the next five weeks off for the birth of his daughter, is set to play in at least one more Euro event. Donald also clinched the PGA of America Player of the Year Award on Sunday.

One other U.S. honor remains to be settled, the Jack Nicklaus award to the top player, decided by a vote of his peers. PGA Tour players undoubtedly rank among the more self-absorbed beings on the planet, so, hopefully they were paying attention.

"He played great, hit it close, made the putts, and I don’t know what else you can say," playing partner Scott Gutschewski said. "That was pretty close to flawless. It was fun to watch."

Then came the obvious question.

"I don’t know who I’ll vote for," Gutschewski said.

What's left to ponder, people?

Nobody won more tournaments, more money or had a lower stroke average. Nobody had more top-10 finishes, with 14 in 19 starts, than Donald. That's two more top-10 finishes, in seven fewer starts, than Simpson, who was second on that list.

He did it all in unforgettable Sunday style. No knock on Simpson, Keegan Bradley or the other players with two PGA Tour victories this year, but if the American players don’t vote for Donald when the ballots are mailed, the process is a complete sham and future honors should be decided by a panel of experts who are actually paying attention.

Simpson said he would vote for himself, of course, but he was as impressed as the rest of us with Donald's incredible finishing kick.

"We both had our moments out there of playing great golf this week," Simpson said. "He did his at the end, when it counts."

When it counts the most.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I bailed on watching Donald's threesome and headed back to the media center after his sloppy bogey at the eighth, which seemed like the death knell at the time. Turns out, he had a Hollywood ending in store for us all.

I mentioned it to him afterward, while staring at my feet.

"Sorry you left early," he smirked.

Given his storybook, back-nine theatrics, not as sorry as I am.

Category: Golf
Posted on: October 21, 2011 6:35 pm
Edited on: October 21, 2011 6:35 pm

Duel at Disney goes to third-stage showdown

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- After 10 months and more shots than anybody could possible care to tally, there's still not much separating Luke Donald and Webb Simpson.

On the Disney World scoreboard, there's zero gap whatsoever.

The players ranked first and second on the PGA Tour money list, in the field this week to try to secure that distinction as well as other possible postseason honors, played the first two rounds together at the Children's Miracle Network Hospitals Classic and came out in a dead heat.

After all this time, and two days rubbing elbows, the show ponies are both tied for 14th at 7 under with two official rounds remaining in the official season. They are five shots off the  lead.

"It's been fun," Simpson said. "I think we'll be close enough to each other, if not together, tomorrow."

Very prescient. After the dust settled, they'll be paired in the third round Saturday, too.

Donald, ranked No. 1 in the world and hoping to win the Disney title to surge past earnings leader Simpson, fought hard all day to keep the ball on the property and shot a 1-under 71. Simpson shot 69.

"It was hard work today," Donald said. "It could have been a lot worse."'

Donald was fighting a sinus issue that zapped his mojo for much of the day. He's also logged more jet miles over the past two weeks than most airline pilots.

"I struggled with my energy levels today," he said. "I definitely didn’t feel very comfortable over the ball."

After a season of mostly scintillating results, Donald laughed about how he was missing shots both ways, yet managed to stay in the hunt.

"It could have been an 80," he said. "I'm struggling to find the things I did well today."

One shot that could hurt down the stretch was a fairly routine layup shot on the par-5 14th that he pulled into a water hazard.

"Sometimes you've got to fight ugly and play ugly," Donald said. "It was very ugly today, it wasn't very good at all. Obviously it's not the hardest course in the world, but I didn't do many things well today.
It's disappointing. But sometimes you're going to have rounds like that. I remember at the BMW at Wentworth there was a round that was very similar -- didn't play very well, kind of ground it out and kind of kept myself there or thereabouts, and hopefully I can do the same.

"It would be nice to shoot a low one tomorrow, get in the mix, and make this one a bit fun for me and fun for everyone else."

Simpson echoed Donald's sentiments for much of the week.

"We want to beat each other," said Simpson, a frontrunner for the tour's top-player award, "as well as beat the field."

Category: Golf
Posted on: June 16, 2011 10:09 am
Edited on: June 16, 2011 10:40 am

Back nine start puts Open players on backside

BETHESDA, Md. -- As if the U.S. Open isn’t daunting enough, doesn’t cause enough throat constriction, each of the 156 players in the field this week will start one of their first two rounds with a downright frightening tee shot.

Using split tees, the 10th hole at Congressional Country Club is a 220-yard par-3 with a forced carry over a lake. Imagine facing t hat as your opening shot at, say, 8 a.m. in the first round.

That's exactly what the top three players in the world were presented with on Thursday, when Luke Donald, Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer teed off at 8:06 a.m. ET.

The hole, playing 199 yards in the first round, has already taken a significant toll. In five of the first six groups to play the hole, at least one player dunked a ball in the water. The group that played it immediately before the top-three trio rinsed two balls, with Anthony Kim and Ryo Ishikawa making double-bogeys to star their week.

Guess that's why Congressional named it the Blue Course?

Players were actively bag-hawking one another on the tee, trying to pick the best iron to hit, because landing short was clearly not an option.

"It was a 4-, 5- or 6-iron, depending on the player," Westwood said as he walked toward the green. "I think we each hit different clubs."

Donald and Kaymer both birdied the hole to immediately pick up a shot on the field, easily.

Despite the carnage, they were running pretty close to on time. The Donald threesome teed off three minutes behind its scheduled time.

Posted on: June 3, 2011 6:56 pm
Edited on: June 3, 2011 6:58 pm

Worn-out Donald shows no signs of fading

DUBLIN, Ohio -- It's hard to tell which has left Luke Donald more gassed, the miles he has logged in the air or on the grassy ground.

The newly minted world No. 1 took over the top spot in the rankings on Monday, after it took 73 holes to beat Lee Westwood outside London. A week earlier, he played six rounds to reach the finals of a match play event in Spain. Before that, he battled at the Players Championship in Florida and finished T4.

Now in Ohio, Donald has played four straight weeks in three countries and logged over 200 holes, pro-ams included, and still has the weekend left to play at the Memorial Tournament, where he's four shots off the lead.

"I've got enough for two more days," he said.

Donald shot 3-under 69 in the second round to stay within range of leader Steve Stricker, who took the last two weeks off.

It's not just that Donald has been playing, he's been in contention. He was second at match play before winning at Wentworth, which eats up even more energy. His caddie, John McLaren, was looking a bit drained after the second round at Muirfield Village on Friday, for certain.

Lotta miles, lotta time zones, lotta countries in a month's time.

"I'm looking forward to having a week off," Donald said. "I've had to work on managing my energy levels."

Category: Golf
Posted on: March 3, 2011 1:44 pm
Edited on: March 3, 2011 1:47 pm

Euro Tour conditions, Hooters Tour scores

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- If the Sunshine State was this rude to all of its tourists, Disney World would go broke in a week.

The Honda Classic this week boasts its best field in years, thanks to a spectacular infusion of stars from the European Tour who are in town in advance of next week's mega-money event at Doral Resort in Miami.

Most of those players, including a huge wad of guys from the victorious Ryder Cup team, were flat blown away by what they faced in Thursday's opening round. Emphasis on blow.

With winds gusting over 30 mph, the only prominent Euro Tour star in the difficult morning wave to escape with his hide intact was world No. 2 Lee Westwood, who shot an even-par 70.

Luke Donald, who won last week in Tucson and plays both tours, made a triple-bogey on is second hole and was elated to grind out a 73, all things considered. Donald, who maintains a home in the South Florida area, said that on days like this, he probably wouldn;t bother to play normally.

"I'd probably work on my short game," he cracked.

"I got off to an awful start and it was a tough day and I grinded it out," said Donald, who moved up to world No. 3 this week. "I'd take 3 over."

So would some other prominent guys from across the pond. Norethern Ireland's Rory McIlroy said the wind was so stiff at times, he could feel it blowing his putter away from the ball as he stood on the greens. He and caddie J.P. Fitzgerald figured they had to allow for 35 extras yards when playing shots into the wind -- or nearly three clubs of added distance.

Downwind, McIlrot said he hit a 240-yard 5-iron.

"You have to stay committed," the 21-year-old said. "There's trouble, there's water, there's wind. You've got to really commit to the target."

Ryder Cupper Ross Fisher was also in the morning wave and shot 76.

Category: Golf
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