Luke Donald grasped the world No 1 tag back off Rory McIlroy last night with victory in the Transitions Championship in Florida. The Englishman showed ice-cool nerves to win a four-man play-off and ensure he will tee off the season's first major at the top of the rankings.
What a boost this was for Donald as the Masters approaches in less that three weeks' time. And what a fillip it also was for the United Kingdom, which lifted its third American title in as many weeks. After being usurped by McIlroy at the Honda Classic a fortnight ago, Donald was impervious in reclaiming the mantle, shooting a five-year-old 66 in the final round before playing one of his best-ever shots under pressure on the first extra hole.
After Ernie Els had suffered a meltdown with bogeys at the last two holes to toss away a one-shot advantage – the South African requiring the win to qualify for Augusta – Donald was left alongside two Americans, Jim Furyk and Robert Garrigus, and the highly-rated Korean Bae Sang-moon on 13-under going into the shootout.
The quartet played the tricky 18th at Innsbrook, with Donald hitting the worst drive into the rough on the right. Yet, with his ball sitting down, Donald struck a courageous seven-iron 166 yards over a greenside bunker to within seven feet. Furyk and Bae missed long putts for birdies before Garrigus missed from eight feet.
Donald, displaying the fortitude to which the golf world has become accustomed, rammed home his birdie putt to win the fifth American title of his career and, more pertinently, his fifth worldwide title in little over a year. Following a mediocre beginning to the 2012 this was just the encouragement Donald needed as he takes the next two weeks off to prepare for Georgia.
"This is just another step on what I hope will be the road to my first major," said the 34-year-old, who won a play-off at the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth against Lee Westwood last May to first head the order. "I certainly was a lot more nervous the first time, thinking about trying to get to No 1. This wasn't my focus this time around. I was just focused on trying to win the tournament."
With Justin Rose prevailing at last Sunday's WGC Cadillac Championship in Miami these are golden times for British golf. Donald's return to form will see him challenge McIlroy for favouritism to break the European drought at Augusta which stands at 13 years.
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