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Donald is a consistent threat

Friday, April 01, 2011

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Englishman Luke Donald obliterated everyone in his path to win the WGC-Match Play Championship in February, vaulting to No. 3 in the world rankings.

Englishman Luke Donald, who rose to No. 3 in the world after his victory in the WGC-Match Play Championship in February, endured a three-year winless stretch that was aggravated by a wrist injury. (Rainier Ehrhardt/Staff)

Considering it was his first PGA Tour victory and second worldwide in five years, how did he get there?

Donald got there with a dogged consistency that was easy to miss if you were paying attention only to the winners or the majors. If golf gave out Olympic-style medals every week, Donald would have found a place on the podium 11 times from February 2010 to February 2011 -- five bronze, four silver and two golds.

Stretch the view a little wider and Donald posted 17 top-11 finishes in 28 worldwide starts in 2010-11.

"Not sure if it surprises me," Donald said when asked about his place in the race to be No. 1 in the world. "I certainly feel like I have the talent and ability to get to the top."

That hasn't always been the first thought when it comes to the quietly talented 33-year-old, who played at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. Even Donald questioned whether he would ever live up to his potential during a three-season winless drought marked by a wrist injury that threatened his career.

He had not won in the U.S. since the 2006 Honda Classic or in Europe since 2004.

Luke Donald missed the cut in two of his past three Masters. (Corey Perrine/Staff)

He snapped both droughts with a win in the European Tour's Madrid Masters last May and the Match Play six weeks ago.

"There were definitely times where I had my doubts if I was ever going to win again," Donald admitted. "I got frustrated at times, but I think one good thing that kind of kept me going was I was always constantly giving myself chances. It wasn't like I was missing cuts every week and wasn't playing well.

''I've never had too much of a dip in form. I've always been up there having chances to win, and I knew if I kept knocking on the door that eventually it would open."

Despite being worthy of a spot on three Ryder Cup teams, Donald was sometimes criticized for not being driven enough to win. He was once held up derisively by a British tabloid, which characterized "Luke Donald Disease" as an affliction of athletes satisfied with collecting checks instead of championships.

Donald sternly denies that charge.

"There's nothing really further from the truth," he said. "I think my desire and work ethic is as good as anyone's out here. What's important to me is picking up trophies and not checks."

After steamrolling the world's elite in the Match Play -- needing just 89 holes to win his six matches while never trailing and never playing the 18th hole -- Donald buried any notions that he's a mild competitor. Capping such a strong run, he looks stronger than ever entering the major season.

"I'm obviously riding high on confidence right now," he said. "Winning breeds more winning, hopefully. Elevating myself in the world rankings, you build that much more confidence in yourself. Golf is a very mental game, and if you can go in there with some positive feeling it will help."

Donald used to be full of positive thoughts at the Masters Tournament, tying for third in his 2005 debut and 10th two years later. But he has missed the cut twice in his last three starts and has only one sub-par round at Augusta National since shooting 68-77-69-69 in his first trip.

But Donald's recent form is more the result of health and general welfare of his game at the time than any downward trend.

"Any time you go there and you're not firing on all cylinders, you're going to struggle," he said. "I think I just got to the Masters without peaking, unfortunately. I think that's more the reason. Coming back from a wrist injury is never easy, and it does take time."

One of the best iron strikers in the world with a solid short game, Donald has the tools to skin Augusta National in a different fashion than the bigger hitters.

"He's possibly the kind of guy who could be a contender for the Masters," said countryman Lee Westwood, last year's runner-up at Augusta. "You can't not see him as a major contender. His greatest asset is that he hasn't got any weaknesses."

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