Luke Donald out to 'slip past' No 1 rivals Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood
Great Britain and Ireland should rightfully feel on top of the golfing world when the first three players in the rankings tee off here together tomorrow.
Who would ever have thought that a 22-year-old from Ulster would be the No 1 and that his nearest pursuers would be two thirtysomethings from England? Or that everyone would be feeling positive about Tiger Woods, down there at No 16?
The world has been turned on its head this last few years, but now Rory McIlroy is out to plonk it back on its feet and keep it stable. To do so he must first ensure he doesn't suffer the ignominy of having the shortest reign of any world No 1. Depending on how he performs at this WGC Cadillac Championship, Luke Donald could claim back his throne simply by finishing in the top two. Lee Westwood, the world No 3, could also rescale the summit if he wins.
By any token, there is much to play for over "the Blue Monster". "It'll be a fun threeball," said Donald. "It might work to my advantage. There was a lot of energy in the semi-final between Rory and Lee in the Match Play [two weeks ago]. Maybe they will focus on each other again and I can slip away and make some birdies without them noticing."
Everyone is noticing McIlroy. It had been some 48 hours for him when he arrived here yesterday. On Sunday in Palm Beach, McIlroy held off the final-round charge of Tiger Woods to win the Honda Classic and so usurp Donald. And then on Monday in New York he took a point off Maria Sharapova when invited on court at an exhibition tennis match involving his girlfriend, Caroline Wozniacki. If the latter was not expected, the former most definitely was.
"Rory has had a tremendous run," said Donald, thinking back over 11 events in which McIlroy has been out of the top five only once. "He's been extremely consistent and, obviously, the win last week was very impressive. You can compare what Rory is starting to do with what Tiger did at a very young age. Rory still has a way to go. But we all know Rory has a huge amount of talent. And he's starting to win more now, too.
Donald was at a playground with his two daughters when he heard he had been deposed. However, the toys did not come out of the pram. "He's playing great and I've been struggling," he said. "At least I now have a position from which I can improve. It's hard to go very far when you're No 1. I feel like I'm progressing. I just need to take it from the range on to the course."
Despite the Honda Classic taking place near his home in Palm Beach, Donald chose not to play. "It was purely a scheduling decision," he said, explaining the fatigue he feels when playing four tournaments on the spin. Instead, he worked on his short game at The Bear's Club. "I've spent a decent amount of time working on some improvements in my swing and I didn't put the same intensity and effort into my short game," he said. "With me my golf always starts from the hole backwards. I feel a bit more solid with my putting, chipping and bunker play now."
An on-song Donald would be an ominous rival for McIlroy, but then, so too would Westwood. The 38-year-old's 63 to finish fourth on Sunday was largely overlooked in all the talk of Rory and Tiger. What most people do not realise is that Westwood was not 100 per cent at the weekend because of a bout of food poisoning. Westwood is now recovered and because of his and McIlroy's spiky relationship, would like nothing better to be crowned at the youngster's expense.