Donald Won't Return to Defend Title this Week

Luke Donald won't be able to play in this week's Children's Miracle Network Hospitals Classic, citing family reasons. The $4.7 million PGA Tour event, the final full-field tournament of the year, starts Thursday on the Magnolia and Palm courses in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

Last year the 34-year-old Englishman closed with a clutch 8-under 64 to finish at 17-under 271, two strokes ahead of Justin Leonard. The victory - Donald's second of the season and fourth overall - was worth $846,000, vaulting him atop of the PGA Tour earnings list and allowing him to become the first player in history to top the money lists on both the PGA and European tours. It also secured his position as the No. 1-ranked golfer in the world.

In an October 29 press release, Donald explained that he can't play in the tournament due to a scheduled medical procedure for one of his children.

"I'm very sorry that I will be unable to defend my title at this year's Children's Miracle Network Hospitals Classic as that tournament was an important highlight for me in 2011," Donald said in the release. "My career as a golfer places many demands on my schedule, and I'm often forced to miss some precious time with my family as I travel to play around the world, but in this case, home is where I have to be.

"I wanted to be able to express my appreciation for everything that Children's Miracle Network means to us and am happy to be able to support their work. I wish them a very successful tournament."

Tournament director Kevin Weickel said he was sorry Donald couldn't return to defend. "Of course we will miss having our defending champion, Luke Donald, in the field this fall, but everyone associated with Children's Miracle Network and Disney understand the importance of being there to support family. I would hope that every one of us, in a similar position, would do the same thing and we offer our full support to Luke and his family."

Donald was replaced atop the world rankings in March by Rory McIlroy after the young Northern Irishman won the Honda Classic. Despite winning the Transitions in March, Donald is currently ranked No. 3 behind McIlroy and Tiger Woods. In 17 starts, he has eight top-10 finishes, earning $3,512,024 this season.

In 2012, McIlroy is in good position to duplicate Donald's feat by ending up atop the money lists on the PGA and European tours.