Donald continues learning curve in search of first major victory

 

Augusta

World domination is complete but Luke Donald has once again
failed to land his first major victory. The Invisible World No 1
climbed the hill to the 18th green almost one hour before the
leaders even set off in pursuit of glory and a green jacket.

"There is nothing worse than waking up on Sunday knowing that whatever you do it is not going to be good enough," Donald said, before his final round. He reminded everyone of that after signing for his best score of the week – an impressive four under par 68, which equals his best round at Augusta. As far as this tournament was concerned, though, it was an inconsequential statistic. Three over-par rounds of 75, 73 and 75 had already consigned the World No 1 to the Masters chorus line.

Donald came to Augusta with high hopes but they stalled almost as soon as he had parked up at the clubhouse at the end of that famous tree-lined Magnolia Drive. He was sounding and feeling as flat as a balloon at the end of a children's party. His chances were popped long before the cake and prizes were handed out, after the musical chairs at the top of the leaderboard.

"Well, regardless of how I played, I'll leave disappointed," he said. "You probably learn more from not playing well than you do from playing well. The margins are so small at Augusta. That's the difference between majors and normal events. Obviously I've got to work on being able to bring the game that I play at normal tournaments to the majors. I'm getting closer each time. It just takes more and more experience."

Donald blamed careless mistakes for his demise. Mistakes like that at Augusta are compounded more than at any other venue. Mistakes like two double bogeys on par fives and three-putting four times. That's more three-jacks, as they say here, on the greens in four days, Donald thinks, than he had in the whole of last season.

In a sport where the contenders lose more often than they win, taking the positives out of defeat is an oft-heard soliloquy in post-round postmortems before the vanquished head to the airport to do it all over again next week. Donald was clinging to the feelgood factor of that 68 that included an eagle at the 15th – and looking ahead.

"I'll remember that round hopefully next year, and even Thursday when it comes to the Olympic Club [venue for June's US Open] in a couple months," he said. "It took me a while to learn how to win on the US Tour and the European Tour. I think it's the same with majors. It's a different level, and it's just taking me a little bit of time to figure it out."

He's not the only one, although Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell are trying to conjure up some more greatest hits to record that difficult second album, after winning the 2011 and 2010 US Opens respectively. The two pals from Northern Ireland were paired together with a High Noon tee time. But their train had left town long ago as they set off in the middle of the pack.

It was a meaningless meander through the dogwoods and pines as far as this tournament was concerned. They may as well have been enjoying an Easter Sunday scramble around Royal Portrush, the loser buying lunch and a pint of the black stuff. McIlroy will have had to get his wallet out under those circumstances as his miserable Masters weekend continued: 77 on Saturday, 76 on Sunday. Still, he broke 80, so that's a better final round than last year.

McDowell, like Donald, spoke about the slow learning curve that players have to ride at Augusta. Maybe he is beginning to figure out how to unlock its secrets. He fired a four under par 68 to finish his week's toil at two under.

"I do love coming to this tournament. It's always exciting. I'm still learning," McDowell said. "I'd love this tournament to be starting tomorrow because I fancy my chances. This is my fifth Masters, and always nice to get runs like that under my belt."

McDowell said next year he would enlist the help of the twice Masters champion Jose Maria Olazabal, and he has already set up a practice round. "I said to him I really need a few pointers and a bit of direction around this golf course."

Justin Rose is another who is perhaps working out what makes Augusta tick. He too closed with a 68, to finish four under. He could have been a contender but for four shots dropped late on Saturday. But that's the beauty and the beast of this brain-scrambling piece of perfectly manicured Georgian real state.

McDowell was the unofficial spokesman for this year's also-rans.

"I'd love to put that green jacket on my back," he said. "I'll be back, as Arnold said." That's Schwarzenegger, obviously, not Palmer.

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