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Donald Wins; Regains No. 1 Ranking
Luke Donald closed with a 5-under 66 and then birdied the first hole of a four-man sudden-death playoff to win the Transitions Championship. With the victory on the Copperhead course at Innisbrook Resort in Palm Harbor, Fla., Donald regained the No. 1 World Golf Ranking from Rory McIlroy, who took the week off.
The 34-year-old Englishman carded five birdies Sunday to tie Americans Jim Furyk (69) and Robert Garrigus (64) and South Korean Sang-Moon Bae (68) at 13-under 271 in regulation. On the first playoff hole, the par-4 18th, Donald hit a great shot from the right-hand rough to just over six feet below the hole.
Hitting next from the fairway, Bae put his approach 18 feet beyond the cup while Furyk's second ended up 40 feet past. After launching a 313-yard drive, Garrigus placed his second below the hole but just a bit farther out than Donald's. After all three players missed their attempts Donald snuck his winning birdie into the hole.
After a historic 2011 in which he became the first player to win the money titles on both the PGA and European tours, Donald has had a slow start in 2012. But all that changed with his triumph on Sunday.
The victory put him a good frame of mind for the Masters in three weeks. Despite 11 wins in America and Europe, Donald has yet to take home a major title, one of his primary career goals. "Another step in the right direction to winning majors," he said at greenside. "Obviously, this is the perfect preparation."
As for returning to the top spot in the rankings, Donald, who earned $990,000 and 500 FedEx Cup points, noted, "I was just focused on winning the tournament."
Other than Donald, Garrigus had the best chance at birdie on the playoff hole. But he was fooled a bit by the putt. "It was a pretty simple putt," he told reporters. "I thought it was the same exact putt I had in the playoff but just didn't break as much. I had a great day.
"If you would have told me I would have been in a playoff this morning when I woke up, I would have pretty much told you you were crazy. It was a good day, and hit three good shots in the playoff and they didn't go in the hole and that's golf and that's why we keep grinding and keep going."
Furyk, the Transitions winner two years ago, was upset with how this year's tournament pannede out. "I hit good shots down the stretch. I'm disappointed," the 41-year-old said, adding that a bogey on the par-3 13th was crucial. "Obviously the three-putt at 13, I'll replay that through my mind a little bit."
Sharing fifth at 272 were Scott Piercy, who shot the low round of the tournament - a 9-under 62, Jeff Overton (66), Ken Duke (68) and Ernie Els (67).
After carding six birdies through 12 holes, Els stood atop the leaderboard. But then the three-time major champion met disaster, with bogeys on the final two holes to lose his lead and miss out on the playoff. Els now needs to win next week's Arnold Palmer Invitational or the Shell Houston Open the following week to earn a spot in the Masters, an event where he's finished as the runner-up twice and has never missed since first playing at Augusta National in 1994.
Els was obviously shaken by the ending of what was shaping up to be an important final round. "I'm pretty hot now, and it's difficult to talk with a straight head here," said the 42-year-old South African, who ranked 68th in the rankings before the start of the Transitions. "Yeah, if I take stock, I think I'm playing good golf, and I've got to head into the next couple of weeks trying to get a win."
Piercy got off to a torrid start, carding seven birdies on the front nine for a 7-under 29. He admitted later to taking a fancy to tying the Tour's all-time low score, a 59, which has been shot by five players. Instead, Piercy came in with two birdies and the rest pars on the back nine.
"You know, yeah, you've got to," he said of carding the magic number. "You'd be lying if you said no. When we made the turn, it was - my caddie looked at me and said, 'Five more.' Which in a way is thinking 59, but in a way, if I get five more, I get to 15 and I think that probably wins. And I think that's more where he was coming from.
"I think it was doable, but 11, I let 11 slide by a little bit. Just the chip there crossed me up a little bit. But you know, I mean, overall, I played pretty solid," added the 33-year-old, who logged his first Tour win last year in the Reno-Tahoe Open. "There was a couple shots I'd probably like to hit over. I had a wedge on 12 that was pretty bad. It was just a perfect situation, perfect distance and just hit a bad shot.
"But you know, even if you get it to 10-, 11-, 12-under going into the last three or four holes, you've got some good golf to play. And fortunately for me, I played 16, 17, 18 pretty well under-par this week, I'm pretty sure."
After starting the final round tied with Furyk for the lead in the $5.5 million tournament, Retief Goosen battled a bad back for the second straight day. But he wasn't nearly as successful on Sunday, shooting 10 strokes higher than his 65 the day before.
"It was the same as yesterday, my back," Goosen said. "Yesterday hit a lot of bad shots and got a way with it and today I didn't. So I won't say that the back was any different to yesterday. It's just a lot of shots going right. So just can't get on to my left side. Played like a dog, simple as that. I could have done better than that, working with the issue on my back, but I wouldn't say my back was any worse."
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