Donald Out to Spark Year at Innisbrook

Luke Donald is hoping for a repeat result at the $5.5 million Tampa Bay Championship, which starts Thursday on the Copperhead course at Innisbrook Resort in Palm Harbor, Fla.

In 2012, the Englishman won what was then called the Transitions Championship after closing with a 5-under 66 on the par-71 course. He then birdied the first playoff hole to beat Robert Garrigus, Jim Furyk and Sang-Moon Bae. The victory, which allowed him to reclaim the No. 1 ranking from Rory McIlroy, was the fifth of Donald's career and also his most recent on the PGA Tour.

Despite eight top-10 finishes in 17 starts in 2012 and two top-25s in three events this year, Donald knows he's fallen short of his normally high standards since that win a year ago at Innisbrook. "The results have not been as good as I'd liked for sure," he told reporters Wednesday. "But I'm certainly not approaching these events with too much worry or anticipation because I feel like I'm very close.

"Even last week, I finished 43rd, hit 48 greens for the week, Tiger (Woods - the winner at the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral) hit 50. Just the things that I'm usually very proficient and good at just wasn't quite sharp enough last week and that was kind of from a hundred yards and in."

Yet Donald knows that area is the strength of his game and will return. "Again, when that part of my game struggle, I'm not too concerned," he added. "I know it's just a little bit here or there. I'm always quite confident when I feel like I'm hitting the ball solidly tee to green and I feel like I've been doing that for the most part this year."

Here's what else Donald said to the media on the eve of the Tampa Bay Championship.

MODERATOR: We'd like to welcome our defending champion Luke Donald. You just got done playing the Pro Am, if you want to talk about the course and the conditions and we'll take a few questions?

LUKE DONALD: Yeah, the course is in pretty good shape as usual. I really enjoy this golf course. It's a golf course you have to really think your way around, shape some shots off the tee. It really does test all parts of your game from tee shots to really getting the iron shots in the right positions on the greens, which are some of the most slopey and fast greens we play all year. And they are very quick right now, and you know, it's a thinking man's course I think, and excited to be back here. Obviously some good memories from last year.

Q. Apart from the shot in the playoff last year, what did you do well over the four days last year?

LUKE DONALD: Hard to remember but I think chipped and putted very well. I scrambled very well. These are pretty small greens. Again, you have to be in the right sections of these greens to have good birdie looks, sometimes 20, 15 feet, 20 feet above the hole and you're really just lagging the putts, hoping they will go in, but thinking 2 putt more than anything. You really have to be in good positions to be aggressive on these greens. You know, I think you are going to miss some greens out here, and you've got to be very good around the greens.

Q. Looking back on your season so far, how would you summarize how you've performed?

LUKE DONALD: The results have not been as good as I'd liked for sure. But I'm certainly not approaching these events with too much worry or anticipation because I feel like I'm very close. Even last week, I finished 43rd, hit 48 greens for the week, Tiger hit 50. Just the things that I'm usually very proficient and good at just wasn't quite sharp enough last week and that was kind of from a hundred yards and in. Again, when that part of my game struggle, I'm not too concerned. I know it's just a little bit here or there. I'm always quite confident when I feel like I'm hitting the ball solidly tee to green and I feel like I've been doing that for the most part this year.

Q. Are you working on a draw, is that what you were talking about last week?

LUKE DONALD: Well, I'm working on a move in my transition if I do it correctly, I think will produce more of a right to left shot starting right rather than left.

Q. Why are you doing that?

LUKE DONALD: It's really just I've been trying to do it for many years. I tend to get a little bit quick in my transition, my right hip gets a little bit high through impact, and I'm trying to deliver the club a little bit lower, my hands a little bit lower and the club shaft a little bit lower through impact just for more consistency and better strike and control really. That's why I'm doing it just to continue to improve.

Q. How is that coming?

LUKE DONALD: It's coming. As I said, I saw a stat, I led proximity to the hole last week; finished 43rd, I don't know if that's correct.

Q. That's usually good.

LUKE DONALD: That's usually good. I saw that Tiger hit 50 greens, I counted up mine and I hit 48. I think the ball striking's coming. It's getting closer. For some reason I struggled on the greens last week. Didn't read the putts well and didn't hole enough from inside 15 feet.

Q. Can you talk about the playoff hole last year and if you were one of the three guys that didn't come out on top, how do you move past it?

LUKE DONALD: Well, fortunately, I did come out on top. My caddie told me he wanted me to birdie that first hole because he had a flight to catch back to London. (Laughter). It's one of those shots that came off just perfectly. I had a good yardage, and as I said, that's probably the toughest green we'll play all year almost, the 18th green at this course, and you have to be underneath the hole and obviously to leave it underneath the hole, you had to land it just perfectly over that bunker. But for the other three guys, I don't know, losing to a birdie on that hole probably isn't the worst thing. I'm sure they took a lot of confidence from getting themselves actually into the playoff.

Q. More of a scheduling question, having spent a lot of time being world No. 1 and everyone making such a big deal about Rory not playing as much, is that the hardest part trying to come up with a balance of making sure you're not tired and staying sharp?

LUKE DONALD: It is a tricky thing, especially if you're - like Rory and I play both tours. You feel like you spread yourself a little bit thin. He's obviously playing three or four or five events less, or planning to play three or four or five events less this year than he did last year, and that thins him out even more. And when you get off to the slow start that he did, sometimes the best way to get out of a funk like that is just to play, and to play - just get reps and get competitive rounds under your belt. I'm sure he juggled that in his mind a little bit, whether to add another event or something, just to do that.

But at the same time, you also are planning your schedule around majors, and trying to be ready and rested enough where you don't feel like you've played a ton of golf leading up to the majors. Obviously the Masters is a little bit easier, the first one, and you can sort of plan your way up to that one. The others, you're starting to play a few more events. That's certainly my mindset when I set my schedule. I also want to play the events where I feel like I have a chance to win. But being rested and feeling like you're not overdoing it is important, too. It's a fine balance.

Q. Have you ever been through a stretch in your career where you felt like you had to add starts because just needed to be sharper?

LUKE DONALD: You know, I think most of my career I've played close to 30 weeks a year. I didn't feel like I needed to add too many events. For me I feel like the older I get, the more I played around to slightly decrease my said each year and play a little bit less. But again, that's very tough when you're playing both tours because you just feel like you're thinning yourself out; if you don't hit the right events and play well on those right ones, then you're going to struggle a little bit for trying to win the Race to Dubai, for trying to win and get yourself in position for the FedEx Cup. It's a balancing act and it's not an easy one.

Q. Following that a little bit, related to the Masters, was there a point in time when you realized, I'm playing too much leading in, or I'm over prepared? Do you recall having a conscious decision where, I need nothing there with more rest, as opposed to overdoing it?

LUKE DONALD: Yeah, you know, I've always looked at trying to find patterns in success that I've had. It's very hard to find. I think it just becomes, the fact that golf is a fickle game, and you're going to have weeks where you struggle. Look at Tiger; he's won twice and he's also missed the cut and finished 40th or something. It's one of those games where you're not going to be consistently playing and churning out those results all the time. It's hard to find out what works best for you. I've gone and played the Masters not having three weeks before; I've tried to play the week before. And again, I haven't really seen a pattern which stands out that works. So again, I kind of set my schedule where I know I'm not playing a ton of events leading up to a major because I want to feel reasonably rested. But at the same time, you want to play enough to where you feel like you're competitively sharp.

Q. You're going overseas after this?

LUKE DONALD: Yeah, I'm playing Malaysia next week.

Q. It's next week, Bay Hill week?


Q. Why?

LUKE DONALD: Why? Because I've struggled at Bay Hill. I don't feel like the course suits my game very well. I've never played that well at Houston. Don't know anything about Valero. Certainly didn't want to take three weeks off before Augusta this year. Again, it's nice to knock off a European event. It will save me having to do one at the end of the season. It just seemed like if I was going to fit one of these sort of overseas event, that was a decent week for me.

Q. Do you feel any less stress going into the majors this year as No. 3, as opposed to No. 1?

LUKE DONALD: Yeah, I do. I think there are less people looking at me and less media attention and more on Rory and Tiger. I feel like I can kind of go about my business a little bit more.

Q. Can you measure how that affected you last year, any of the Masters or U.S. Open? Were you No. 1 all four majors last year?

LUKE DONALD: Yeah, I was actually. I lost my ranking at the PGA after Rory won. Yeah, it's always tough. I think everyone's looking up to the guy at No. 1. They expect results. I expect results out of myself, too. You just feel like you need to perform and I think it's just a little added pressure that you put on yourself.

Q. Have you played Merion?

LUKE DONALD: I've not played it yet, no.

Q. Are you planning to go ahead of time?

LUKE DONALD: Yes, probably not till the week before. I've gone to some major events a few weeks before and I don't feel like it's sort of set up the same way as it is, so I like to go as close to the event as possible, so probably the week before.

Q. Good time to ask Bob if he's playing Merion.

LUKE DONALD: Yeah. Any tips?

Q. Keep it straight. (Laughter).

Q. Only bring it up because you poked fun at yourself on Twitter about the 18th at Doral, but is that just a fluke or what?

LUKE DONALD: I hope so. You know, I played that hole well and I've struggled on that hole. I think it is a tough hole. I think, you know, once you get into a routine of having a couple doubles on Thursday, Friday, it starts to play in your mind a little bit. I obviously didn't do a good enough job of shutting that out. But again, you know, that hole aside, it was a decent tournament last week. I'm not too worried about it. We'll see how it looks. I don't think Trump has any plans to really change that one significantly unfortunately. Yeah, I'll figure a way to do better next year.

Q. So when you hit your tee shot on Sunday, it was in your mind what you had done the first three days? I guess that's impossible to not think that.

LUKE DONALD: Yeah, but that happens a lot in golf no matter where you play. Golfers have a good memory and I think it's human nature. You remember the bad stuff more than you remember the good stuff, and it's my job to try and take that out and kind of remember the good stuff. I certainly didn't hit too many poor shots. It's a fine line, that hole. On 18, I crushed a drive and I just tried to fade it off the edge of the water and I just hit it dead straight and it caught the left edge. Took three putts from kind of the edge of the hole, those greens were looking pretty blue. Again, it wasn't like I hit terrible shots there, so I'm not too concerned.

Q. Just out of curiosity, what's tougher to put out of your mind: A bad score on the hole you just played, or bad scores on the hole you're about to play from previous days?

LUKE DONALD: Probably the latter. I'm pretty good about rebounding after making bogey or double, just come back and make birdies after that, with that energy to get the shots back. Yeah, it's about putting away those bad thoughts from the day before.

Q. You talked about your schedule leading up to Augusta. When do you start to think about those shots you need to play at the Masters, and will you go to Augusta earlier than normal?

LUKE DONALD: Yeah, I'll go there the week before again and spend two or three days. I'll probably start thinking about the shots when I get back from Malaysia, a couple weeks before, start working on some of those. Again, it's more about going there really feeling comfortable about my swing and feeling like I have control of my ball flight. I think when I do that and I feel confident on the greens, then that's when I have a good week.

Q. What takes more time, a typical Pro Am on TOUR or a practice round in a major?

LUKE DONALD: Practice round in a major.

Q. When did that happen?

LUKE DONALD: It's been happening since I've been out here, yeah. I think you can over prepare, trying all these different shots, and sometimes you've just got to go out there and play. I think for me, practice rounds are more about just visually seeing stuff, not necessarily trying every single shot from every different angle to every possible pin. That's one way of preparing. I think that's one reason why I go early. I can spend half an hour on a green at Augusta when there's no one behind me. But when you have people cueing up behind you, I don't think you need to spend that long.

Q. But they do anyway.

LUKE DONALD: Of course they do.

Q. And the other thing is, Pádraig said last week when it comes to experiencing Augusta, that the more times you play there, the more experience you get, and the more baggage you get. Which is the ideal balance there?

LUKE DONALD: Well, I think familiarity is really important. There is some baggage, but I feel like I've had a lot of good opportunities there. I kind of remember those more than anything. As I said, I think the familiarity makes that major probably the one where I felt more confident, because I've experienced those shots before. You know, I know how the greens react and I know how most of the putts break. So I think that's a good thing rather than negative.

Q. How many times have you gone to Augusta early?

LUKE DONALD: I go most years.

Q. Several times?

LUKE DONALD: I started in 2005. I certainly went then. I think I've pretty much gone every year since then.

Q. What's that like being there the week before? You have the run of the place, you play with the Members, stay in a cabin, eat pimento cheese?

LUKE DONALD: I've done a couple things. I've stayed on property once and played with a Member. Most of the time I just do my own thing. I can go play on my own, take my coach and we spend a couple days just working on some stuff.

MODERATOR: Thanks for your time, Luke, and good luck this week.

The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.