Forward Press: Luke Donald still has world-class game, but don’t expect last year's results

Luke Donald
David Cannon / Getty Images
So far this season, Luke Donald hasn't shown the form that earned him the money title on two tours in 2011.

The problem with having a great season is that the calendar doesn’t stand still. We're obsessed with trying to figure out what's next, even before we've thoroughly savored what's happening right now. In sports, even before the champ carefully places the trophy on the mantle, the question everyone wants answered is, "Can he do it again?"
 
Luke Donald didn't win a major last season, but his achievement -- winning the money title on both the PGA Tour and the European tour -- was something no other golfer had ever officially done. (Tiger Woods has won the most money on both tours six times, but never as a member of the European Tour.)
 
If Luke had said last January, "My goal for this season is to win the Order of Merit and lead the PGA Tour Money list," experts would have rolled their eyes. Now they're measuring him against that  impossibly high standard.
 
In January, Donald tied for 48th at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.  In February, he tied for 56th at Riviera and, as a No. 1 seed and defending champion, was resoundingly beaten by 16th-seeded Ernie Els in the opening round at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship.
 
Donald tied for sixth last week at Doral, a much more Luke-like performance, and really the first result to his standards in four months.
 
Paul Casey recently told me that following a great round with another is tough because things beyond your control change. The pins are cut in different spots. The wind shifts. Maybe it rains. You can hit the ball just as well as you did the day before without matching the score.
 
Essentially, it’s a market correction. You can’t shoot 62 every day, and the same theory holds true season-to-season.
 
In 2010, Graeme McDowell had a career year. He won the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, beat Hunter Mahan to clinch the Ryder Cup for Europe and defeated Tiger Woods in a playoff at the Chevron World Challenge. In 2011, he failed to win a tournament and missed the cut at the Masters, the British Open and the PGA Championship. Plenty of things, including expectations and his equipment, changed for McDowell.
 
Donald's father died last November; he and his wife, Diane, had a second daughter in December; and a guy named Rory has upped his game. In short, things have changed for Luke Donald, too.
 
"It's been a slow start to the year, so it's nice to get back in the mix," Donald said after shooting 69 at Doral on Sunday. "Obviously did a lot of good things this week.  I don't think this is a particularly great course for me, and to come here and have a chance to win is a positive thing."
 
Donald is hoping for more positive things to happen this week as he returns to the Transitions Championship. He skipped the event last season but tied for sixth on the Copperhead Course at the Innisbrook Resort in 2010.
 
But even if Donald wins this week, his chances of matching last year’s accomplishments are slim. But that doesn’t mean the confidence and skill that took Donald to the top of the World Ranking in 2011 have been erased.
 
Not even the greatest artist paints a masterpiece every time. 
 

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