Luke Donald is in a strange place these days as he returns to the RBC Heritage at Harbour Town, where he tied for second in 2009, tied for third in 2010, and lost on the third hole of a sudden-death playoff with Brandt Snedeker last year.
Despite being the No. 1-ranked player in the world, Donald, 34, remains underrated. This became clear in the prelude to the Masters last week, when the focus centered on Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. Donald had some fun with his stealth status as he accepted the award for 2011 Player of the Year at the Golf Writers Association of America dinner last Wednesday night.
“It’s a strange feeling to be in a room full of people,” he said, poking fun at the writers’ lack of attendance at most of Donald’s press conferences. He briefly put on a McIlroy wig, joking that it would make the scribes feel more comfortable.
Donald is introspective, he doesn’t bomb drives 300 yards, and he’s not dating a famous tennis player, but he does possess a silky-smooth action that a fan of modest height can aspire to, and his results speak for themselves.
The Heritage was one of Donald’s few missed opportunities in 2011, when he won twice on Tour, twice on the European circuit, and held off Webb Simpson to take the money title here and in Europe -- the first time anyone had won both.
Although McIlroy got more headlines for winning the U.S. Open, and for taking Donald’s No. 1 ranking at the Honda Classic earlier this year, Donald came back and won the Transitions to reclaim No. 1 only two weeks later. He is coming off an underwhelming T32 finish at the Masters, despite a final-round 68.
Snedeker also won early this year, at the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, and played reasonably well at Augusta, finishing T19. Others in the field this week include Jim Furyk, the 2010 champion at Harbour Town who was 11th at the Masters, and Webb Simpson, the only other top-10 player besides Donald.
Bubba Watson is not in the field, although Boo Weekley, who went to the same high school as Watson in Bagdad, Fla., and won Harbour Town in 2007 and ’'08, is. So are Ernie Els, Bill Haas, Mark Wilson, Geoff Ogilvy and Kyle Stanley.
Speaking of underrated players, Jason Dufner will be waggling by the famous lighthouse at Harbour Town this week. Remember him? He led the Masters through 36 holes with Fred Couples before shooting a pair of 75s on the weekend to finish T24. Dufner’s coach, Golf Magazine Top 100 teacher Chuck Cook, says “Duf” will win as soon as his putting catches up to his ball-striking.
“He hasn’t quite learned to trust his putting,” Cook said last week.
Not that you can see the laconic Dufner gnashing his teeth about his stroke, or much of anything else. He’s hard to read -- and easy to misread, his coach added.
“People always talk about Duf being so laid-back,” Cook said. “At one point when he was playing the Nationwide Tour, he had close-cropped blond hair, and he wore an earring. That tells you there’s a little more in there than you think.”
Oosthuizen looks to bounce back
Louis Oosthuizen, who authored one of the more memorable shots in Masters history last week, his double-eagle on the second hole Sunday, will be paired with fellow South African Charl Schwartzel, the 2011 Masters champion, at the Maybank Malaysian Open at Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club.
‘Original’ Watson headlines in Tampa; Rice plays Nationwide
Tom Watson, who barely missed the cut at the Masters, will be among the favorites at the Encompass Insurance Pro-Am of Tampa Bay at TPC Tampa Bay. Others to watch: Michael Allen, Jay Haas, Bernhard Langer and Kenny Perry.
Defending champion Daniel Chopra returns to the Nationwide Tour’s TPC Stonebrae Championship in Hayward, Calif., where former San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Jerry Rice will try to make the cut for the first time.