Luke Donald Back in Action this Week

Luke Donald was knocked from his perch as the No. 1-ranked player in golf last Sunday after Rory McIlroy won the Honda Classic at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. The 22-year-old McIlroy, who entered the tournament in south Florida second-ranked, ascended to the top spot for the first time in his young career thanks to his third victory - among them, the 2011 U.S. Open - on the PGA Tour.

The action this week shifts 75 miles south to Miami for this week's WGC-Cadillac Championship. The $8.5 million event starts Thursday at the famed TPC Blue Monster at Doral.

Donald, now ranked between McIlroy and fellow Englishman, third-ranked Lee Westwood, is hoping to jump-start his year after playing in two events and earning but $60,000. That amount is a far cry from last year, when Donald became the first player in history to win the money list titles on both the PGA (with a total of $6,683,214) and European ($7.11 million) tours.

McIlroy's performance so far this year is reminiscent of what Donald accomplished in 2011, and Donald has taken notice. "If you struggle a little bit with your game, you're going to drop down and obviously his consistency has been tremendous and obviously a great win," he said Tuesday from Doral.

"It reminded me a little bit of when I got to No. 1. I had a couple chances to do it, wasn't able to do it and then finally got that win at the BMW. Yeah, Rory is playing extremely well, and he's the guy with the most confidence right now."

The 34-year-old Donald had a lot more to tell reporters during his Q&A. Here's what he had to say during the following interview session.

MODERATOR: Welcome to Luke Donald. Thanks for joining us, Luke. Last time we saw you at the Match Play, maybe a little bit out of sorts, but presumably you've been working pretty hard since then to iron out a flaws in your game.

LUKE DONALD: Yeah, always working hard and looking forward to another week with a very strong field, and obviously trying to find a bit of form and get back in position where I've got chances to win some tournaments. It's been a slow start to the year, but again something I'm not overly concerned with. I feel like I'm progressing. I just need to transfer it from the range to the course.

MODERATOR: Obviously disappointing to be overtaken by Rory as No. 1 but you spent a good 40 weeks there, and I guess a good performance and win here, and you get back on top straightaway.

LUKE DONALD: Rory has had a tremendous run. He's been extremely consistent and obviously the win last week was impressive. I didn't see much of it. But I heard he played great and you know, I struggled, and that's the way the rankings work. If you struggle a little bit with your game, you're going to drop down and obviously his consistency has been tremendous and obviously a great win. It reminded me a little bit of when I got to No. 1. I had a couple chances to do it, wasn't able to do it and then finally got that win at the BMW. Yeah, Rory is playing extremely well, and he's the guy with the most confidence right now.

MODERATOR: Have you had a chance to play a practice round out here, and how is it playing.

LUKE DONALD: I played nine holes today, but it was very windy today, more windy than it usually is here. But the course seems very similar. There's no real changes to the golf course. Had a good run here last year and enjoyed the better form than some previous years, and yeah, I'll be excited to make some birdies.

Q. I'd like to talk about the last couple of holes on the back nine, the 13 is a long par 3, the longest par 3 of the course. How do you approach that? Do you just try to get out of there with a 3?

LUKE DONALD: Yeah, 13, one of the harder holes, one of those long par 3s. Usually the wind is helping or from the right. And you know, it's just an awkward shot to get close. It's one of those holes where you try and pitch it around the front edge, maybe get it on front of the green, and hopefully give yourself an opportunity to make birdie. But if not, take your 2 putt and walk to the next. It's a tricky hole.

Q. And then 15 is much shorter, it kind of sets up the 16th hole which is a birdie hole. Do you look at 15 as an opportunity?

LUKE DONALD: It's a shorter par 3. The difficulty with 15 is it's usually a crosswind and it's a very narrow green. It's about picking the right shot and picking the right club and if you hit that green, usually are not too far away. So that's the biggest difficulty is picking that right shot and the right club and getting the distance control in that hole.

Q. After Honda, there was talk of - after Honda there was talk of a Tiger/Rory sort of rivalry emerging. Do you think that's realistic, and are rivalries essential to tour golf these days anymore?

LUKE DONALD: Well, I mean, you compare what Rory is starting to do now at a very young age, it does have some similarities to what Tiger did. Obviously their records are comparable at the moment. Rory still has a ways to go. But certainly the way Rory has started to show a huge amount of talent, he's starting to win more now. You know, I think there is some comparisons, yeah, why not.

Q. Do you think it's essential? Does it matter? We had Arnold/Jack for years way back when and a few rivalries here and there in the past decades, is it something that's needed on the Tour anymore?

LUKE DONALD: Well, whether there's a rivalry or not, I think it's exciting for golf. They are obviously - Tiger is Tiger. His record precedes him and he's someone who brings in crowds and a big atmosphere and heightens up TV ratings. I think Rory is starting to do that. He's an explosive player. People like to follow him, and I think that's good for the game.

Q. Curious, as a player, how much you've observed kind of how the season has unfolded with what Phil did at Pebble, Rory last week, Hunter, Bill Haas, etc.; do you get any sense as a player that there's more anticipation about this Masters than maybe previous years?

LUKE DONALD: I do. I think it's been an exciting year so far for the golf spectator; for the big names that seem to be coming through. I'm just disappointed that I haven't been in the mix this year. That's more motivation for me to start playing better and get my name up on the leaderboard. But certainly, yeah, it's been a very exciting beginning to the season. You know, again, a lot of big names winning; a lot of leads being lost. Everything that's exciting in terms of golf is kind of happening. Yeah, I think this year's Masters will hopefully live up to that - to what's preceded it.

Q. What do you think has been the cause for somewhat of a sluggish start, the Match Play notwithstanding.

LUKE DONALD: Well, I spent a decent amount of time working on some improvements in my swing, and I think I probably didn't quite put the same intensity and effort into my short game. With me, my golf always starts from the hole backwards. I mean, that's what it's always been about. But sometimes you have to put one part of the game a little bit to the side to work on another and see some improvement that way. The last couple of weeks I've been kind of amping up the practice with the short game. I feel a little bit more solid over the putts, and my short game, putting, bunker play, all that kind of stuff. And hopefully that will start to show in my results.

Q. The shoring up is more long game related I take it?


Q. You had a similar sort of level of consistency the last couple of years that Rory is going through now that you referenced. From a confidence standpoint, what did that kind of do to you when you were playing that consistent; did you feel sort of unbeatable when you were playing that way?

LUKE DONALD: You certainly had a lot less fear and just you were able to step on that first tee Thursday, and just knew by the end of the week, you were going to have a chance to win. That's a good feeling to have. Little doubt in your mind. And I'm pretty sure Rory right now is the most confident player out here right now. Every week he's having a chance to win, and you know, his confidence is obviously sky high.

Q. You're a past winner at Honda, and it's kind of in your backyard. Just curious why you decided to skip it this year, and your thoughts on the drama that happened Sunday; you said you didn't watch, but I'm sure you've probably seen all the highlights, etc.?

LUKE DONALD: Yeah, the sole reason was purely schedule. Last year I played four in a row quite a few times, two or three times, and just felt a little burnt out for the fourth one. Wanted to try and get away from that in my schedule. After obviously losing early in the Match Play, I considered playing, but to be honest, my focus is to really be prepared for this week and going forward and obviously especially in four weeks. So it wasn't really a hard decision. I feel a little bit bad that I didn't play, because it is in my back garden and I'm a past winner; not at that course, but I just thought in terms of my schedule, it was the best thing to do.

Q. And your thoughts on the drama of Sunday?

LUKE DONALD: Yeah, I mean, I saw some highlights. Obviously Tiger, 62; I think Lee shot a 63. I played that course plenty of times; that's pretty impressive rounds, especially with that wind. Rory did what he needed to do. I think the most impressive thing was his short game. I think that really won it for him on Sunday. He got up and down a bunch of times, and it's the kind of thing that got me where I got to.

Q. When you return to Augusta next month, what's it going to be like for you, especially with the way you played there last year?

LUKE DONALD: I think Augusta is always the most exciting event almost, just because it's the first major, especially this year, as Doug said, a lot of exciting things are happening in golf; a lot of the big names are doing well, playing well. Golf is really exciting right now. Tiger is obviously sort of making a mini comeback, and all of the puzzle - all of the pieces are falling into place. As players, we all look forward to Augusta and we always look forward to the first major. That's a lot of what the off season is geared towards. I certainly can't wait to get there.

Q. I'm sure Rory is enjoying the view, as you said on Twitter the other day. How much danger is there of you getting sucked into watching what he and Lee Westwood are doing over the first two days and try to get back that World Ranking?

LUKE DONALD: Well, might be an advantage. They can - I suppose there's a little bit of not tension, but there was a lot of energy in their match at the Match Play. Maybe they will focus on each other again Thursday, Friday, I don't know. Maybe I can just slip away and make some birdies without them noticing. Yeah, it will be a fun three ball. Obviously Rory is the guy that's playing well, but as always, you always concentrate on your own game.

Q. What do you think of the dynamic between those two?

LUKE DONALD: I think it's a very friendly one really to be honest with you. From what I can see, they are still very chatty towards each other. There's no animosity, from all the things that happened, from Rory moving away from Chubby and his group, I think it was just a business decision and that's the way they saw it, both of them.

Q. What do you remember about Tiger's win in'97? What do you think that meant for golf?

LUKE DONALD: At the Masters?

Q. Yes.

LUKE DONALD: Well, '97, I just wasn't even in college then. (Smiling).Yeah, I remember him destroying the field, winning by 12. Augusta weren't too happy. They ended up putting in a lot of trees and making the course longer which made it tougher for me. (Laughter) So I guess I should be mad that he demoralized that golf course. (Laughter). Yeah, obviously that was Tiger's first kind of huge moment in his career.

Q. Did you beat Finchie on Sunday, and if you didn't, would you have been worried?

LUKE DONALD: Yeah, well, he had my brother and a friend, and I played him. Yeah, I managed to win.

Q. How do you regard these World Golf Championships and how do you think they will be regarded, say, ten years from now, or maybe at the end of your career?

LUKE DONALD: I think they will be regarded in a similar light to how they are right now. Obviously a small step down from majors, but still, it's a gathering of the best players in the world. You know, obviously the venues are not quite as iconic, but it's still a tremendously deep field and if you can win one, then I think they will be regarded as good wins on your resumé.

Q. If you could look back just a little bit to Masters from last year, just sort of describe the scene when it seemed like something was happening in every group for the last two hours. And secondly, kind of related to that, do you think Charl has gotten his just desserts for birdieing the last four holes, something that's never been done in any major in the history of time, as far as anyone can tell.

LUKE DONALD: I think last year's Masters, if I was a spectator, I would have loved to have either been there or watching it on TV. I think just as a player, hearing all those roars coming down the back nine was exciting for me. I know playing with bow, he was making a couple eagles and I was make something birdies; a double here and there, as well. It was one of those Masters where the conditions were right for a lot of birdies, a lot of charging on the back nine, and just made for something that was, you know, really fun. It was fun to be a part of. It was nice to be one of those guys to have an opportunity, and you know, what Charl did was pretty amazing. I don't think anyone's ever birdied the last four to win. So you know, Charl - I think in a similar way has a personality similar to me. He's kind of a quiet guy, kind of goes about his business, and in that regards, maybe his win probably didn't quite get the just desserts that it deserves that doesn't sound very good. (Laughter) you know what I mean. Yeah, I'm not a talker.

Q. The No. 1 situation is kind of like what it was last year, where you had some jockeying back and forth. What do you think that does just for the interest in the game when you have two or three, or, heck, maybe even four players in a week to week or at least every couple weeks, battle for the No. 1 spot?

LUKE DONALD: Well, I think it adds a little bit of interest. I'm not sure that the players are quite as concerned with it as maybe you guys or the fans, at least. But anything that adds to a tournament where the broadcasters can talk about it and add to an event, I think it's probably a good thing. There obviously is some jockeying for position. There isn't one stand out player right now that - certainly the World Rankings would say. When Tiger was No. 1, no one really talked about the World Rankings much, and maybe the big talking point was who was in the Top 50, not who was No. 1. It obviously changes with the time. As a player, I try not to get too wrapped up in it.

Q. And along the same lines, maybe because everybody is so close together, what is the difference or what is the gap now between No. 1, and, say, No. 20? Is it smaller than it was five years ago? Take Tiger out of the equation, say between No.2 and No. 20.

LUKE DONALD: I don't know, I've never really thought about it. I guess the guys that the higher you are, the more consistent you are. Consistency pays in the World Rankings. But I don't know, I'll have to think about that. I don't know really how to answer that question.

Q. Where were you when you found out that you had been deposed as world No. 1, and what was the first thought that came into your head?

LUKE DONALD: I was actually with my daughters at the playground. I had just finished just got out of the gym and met them at the playground, and yeah, saw the scores, saw that Rory had a two shot lead I think playing the last. What did I think? Well, thought at least there's somewhere to improve from now. It's hard to go very far when you're No. 1. But no, I didn't give too much thought. That's what happens. I mean, I've had a little bit of a slow start. Rory's played well and probably deservedly over took me. I've always never really questioned the World Ranking system. It's an unbiased mathematical system, and you know, he's done enough to get to No. 1.

Q. How loud of a statement was Tiger's closing 62? Is it anybody can throw a good round together, or Tiger's back, or somewhere in between?

LUKE DONALD: Tiger certainly seems to be making improvements. There's been a lot of talk about his putting; that it has not been that great. But obviously you can't not putt well shooting 62. He's gained confidence from every round. And as I said, having Tiger around playing well I think is good for the game. Certainly it's good for me when great players play great, it inspires me to work harder. I enjoy the challenge of playing against the best.

Q. In a strange way, maybe in a funny way, is it something of a relief maybe to not have that burden of the No. 1 ranking so that you can get on with your business without having that distraction?

LUKE DONALD: Yes and no. Yes, certainly there's going to be a lot more focus on Rory now, less focus on me and I can maybe just go about my business a little more with less distractions and a little bit less expectation. But it's still nice to be No. 1, don't get me wrong.

Q. Looking at the next five years over the PGA Tour, can you name the three players you expect to win the most events in that time span?

LUKE DONALD: On the PGA Tour? It all depends. Obviously Lee and Rory joined the Tour this year. Who knows what they are going to do future years. Obviously - that's a hard question to answer. I mean, winning is not easy out there, but hopefully I'm one of those three. Hopefully - who knows. Rory; Tiger could come back and win. I could throw out a number of names. I'm not sure any of them would be that surprising.

MODERATOR: Thanks Luke, play well this week.

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