DUBLIN, Ohio -- For 11 holes on Thursday morning, Luke Donald didn't look like the No. 1 player in the world.
Battling fatigue from playing four weeks in a row in three different countries, Donald found his form in time to knock off four birdies in a row on his second nine for a 2-under 70, four shots behind co-leaders Chris Riley and Rory McIlroy.
“It was a good finish," Donald said. "I played pretty solid all the way around, just the mistakes I made were careless short-game mistakes, just not very sharp around the greens. It’s probably the first tournament I’ve played where we’ve had some rough all year, so I struggled to get used to that. But I’m happy with the way I played the last nine.”
Donald is coming off a playoff win over Lee Westwood at the European Tour’s BMW PGA Championship. The win vaulted Donald to the top of the Official World Golf Rankings. It was his ninth top-10 finish in 10 events this season.
Starting on the back nine with Phil Mickelson and Masters champion Charl Schwartzel, Donald made bogey on the par-5 11th, and then made double bogey on the 18th.
He was 2 over par at the turn, but then Donald's putter came alive and he made five birdies in a six-hole stretch to get back into the mix.
"I was able to stay pretty patient and know that if I kept doing the same, then things would turn around," Donald said.
For Donald to continue his impressive run, he'll have to battle fatigue after playing the Players Championship, two European events, and now one of the biggest non-major events on the PGA Tour. And then there's all the hoopla that comes with becoming the latest player to take over the No. 1 spot in the rankings.
"I felt better than I thought I would," Donald said. "It's going to be a tough week, obviously, to balance the physical side. I certainly don't have as much energy as I'd like, but to be honest I felt pretty decent today considering."
One player who didn't feel as optimistic after his round was Mickelson. Despite finishing with a birdie on the ninth hole, his 18th, Mickelson's frustrations at Muirfield Village continued with an even-par 72.
Mickelson has yet to win at the Memorial, one of the top trophies missing from his mantle, and he'll need a low round on Friday to have any hope of contending this weekend.
Mickelson started off with a birdie the par-4 10th, and he made the turn at 1-under, but his second shot on No. 2 sailed the green and found the water. He then flubbed a pitch shot and settled for a double bogey.
After a birdie on the par-3 fourth hole, Mickelson was unable to birdie the two par 5s coming in.
"Oh, man," Mickelson sighed after pulling his tee shot right into a greenside bunker on the par-3 eighth. He slapped his glove on his leg and shook his head in disgust. Mickelson almost holed his bunker shot, but then missed his par putt. Another bogey.
Mickelson and his caddie, Jim Mackay, exchanged fist bumps and smiled after a birdie on No. 9, but Mickelson wasn't in a talking mood after he finished. He signed his card and a few autographs, but didn't talk to the media before leaving the course.
(Photo: Scott Halleran/Getty Images)