LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Luke Donald hasn’t played the Children’s Miracle Network Classic since 2003, but he certainly didn’t show any signs of rust Thursday.
Donald took the early advantage in the race for the PGA Tour money title, firing a blemish-free 6-under 66 on the Palm Course at Walt Disney World and stands two shots better than playing competitor Webb Simpson. Donald ($5,837,214) needs to finish no worse than a two-way tie for second to have a chance at making up the $363,029 by which he trails Simpson ($6,200,243). Donald has more than a €1.3M lead in the European Tour’s Race to Dubai Rankings and is looking to become the first player to win both money titles in the same season. He added Disney to his schedule last week after Simpson opened with 63 at the McGladrey Classic.
Only once since 1990 has the money list changed hands in the last week of the season. It happened in 1996 when Tom Lehman won the Tour Championship to earn $540,000 and pass Phil Mickelson.
Donald was part of a six-way tie for the tournament lead after the morning wave finished. Starting on the back nine, the World No. 1 took advantage of calm early conditions, making birdie on three of his first five holes. Despite a few “loose” swings on the back nine, where the wind picked up to 10-15 mph, he remained bogey-free, parring his final six holes.
“For most of the round, I played a pretty solid round of golf,” Donald said. “It wasn’t that easy out there. I think the wind was strong enough to make it a little bit tricky with club selection.”
Simpson also played bogey-free Thursday, making a pair of birdies on both the front and the back (Nos. 5, 7, 11 and 14). Despite Donald being the only person who can catch him on the money list, Simpson said he found it easy to ignore his playing competitor’s solid round and remain caught up in his own game.
“I think when a guy is number one in the world you expect him to play well,” Simpson said. “It almost makes it easier not to get caught up in what he’s doing, because you expect him to go out and make a lot of birdies and be right there Sunday.”
That’s not to say they skipped over the hot topic of the week.
“We joked around earlier on about it,” Simpson said. “I think we’re both handling it the right way and trying to go about our business and see how well we can do.”
“We just had some lighthearted banter out there,” he said. “But not only do I have to beat Webb, I have to beat the rest of the field. I have to keep my eye on everyone.”
How important is the money title to Donald? He is also skipping his 10-year reunion at Northwestern this weekend to try to chase down Simpson.
“I was meant to be the honorary captain at the football game, but hopefully I won’t be missed too much,” he said.