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Donald out to defend title at Honda

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla.(AP) Being the defending champion of a golf tournament has plenty of advantages.

Luke Donald isn't experiencing many of them this week.

He won't have the chance to strike the same 5-iron from 199 yards on the 72nd hole, a shot to 4 feet that sealed his two-stroke win over Geoff Ogilvy in last year's Honda Classic. He won't be able to see the final six greens and draw upon the experience of one-putting them all in the final round on the way to that victory.

All those memories came from The Country Club at Mirasol - just across the street from the Honda's new home, PGA National.

And it's a safe bet that few will miss Mirasol more over the next few days than Donald.

"I like this golf course,'' Donald said Tuesday. "Obviously, I liked Mirasol as well, but the way they've set up the golf course is good. It demands a lot of accuracy off the tee and you really have to play good golf. It's not easy.''

Even though the native Englishman is a homeowner here now - he lives about a 10-minute drive from the gates of PGA National - Donald hasn't played the course that Tom and George Fazio designed and Jack Nicklaus redesigned in 1990 all that often. He's been around twice; once earlier this year before heading out to Pebble Beach, then nine holes Sunday and nine holes Monday, plus is set to play in a pro-am Wednesday.

Donald isn't the only one trying to learn the nuances of PGA National.

"Being here, where I haven't been before, I want to get a couple of practice rounds in,'' said world No. 2 Jim Furyk. "It makes for a long week when you don't know the course that well.''

A new home isn't the only change for the Honda this week.

It's serving as the opener of the PGA's Florida Swing, taking the spot that Doral traditionally held on the schedule; the CA Championship, as Doral's event is now known, will be March 22-25 and ends the four-week Florida stretch that also includes the Tampa Bay Championship in Palm Harbor and Bay Hill in Orlando.

"You play tournaments you feel you're going to do well at,'' said Donald, the world's No. 10 player in the latest rankings who's playing for the fourth straight week. "You try to sequence them where you're playing two or three events in a row and then have a little bit of time off.''

The early portion of Donald's 2007 season has been up-and-down, with a seventh-place finish at the season-opening Mercedes Championships and then a tie for second at the Sony Open the following week. But those results were followed by consecutive missed cuts at Pebble Beach and the Nissan Open earlier this month - the first time he missed back-to-back weekends in PGA Tour events since 2003.

He lost in the second round of last week's Accenture Match Play, falling to Aaron Baddeley.

"My game feels very good,'' Donald said. "Obviously, not the greatest results the last few weeks, but I'm very close to playing at my best again. I think it just needs a little momentum, a couple shots here or there to go my way and I'll be firing on all cylinders. On the range, my game feels very, very good.''

Another win would make it feel that much better, even if PGA National isn't yet giving him the same sort of feelings that Mirasol provided.

"I think this course suits my game,'' Donald said, "so I'm excited to play.''

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