NORTON, Mass. – Luke Donald stood on the 17th tee at TPC Boston early Saturday evening with absolutely nothing, his driver having failed him all day long, his scorecard displaying only the boxed blemishes of five bogeys through 16 holes, and nary a birdie.
His PGA Tour season was on the line (he is 80th in the FedEx Cup standings, and only the top 70 advance to the BMW in Denver next week), and quite possibly his chances at earning a spot on his fifth Ryder Cup team were hanging perilously close to the edge, too. For a man who exudes class, the former world No. 1 wasn’t a very good sight.
Say this for Donald: He’s a fighter. He managed to hit the 17th green and poured in a 12-footer to push to 2 over for the tournament, moving off the cutline. One hole later, he chose not to go for the green with his second shot at the par-5 18th (despite facing only 230 yards in), choosing to take bogey out of the equation. He laid up, hit a poor wedge to 30 feet – and then knocked down that putt, too.
When Donald missed the cut at The Barclays last week, European captain Paul McGinley told him to try to enjoy himself in Boston. “Don’t worry so much about it,” the captain told him as Donald continues his pursuit on one of three wild-card selections that McGinley will announce on Tuesday.
On Saturday, there was little fun to be had.
“That was the only positive from today, those two birdies,” Donald said somberly. “It was a struggle. I hit some very poor tee shots and then just lost confidence in where the ball was going, and that’s never good on the golf course.”
Europe’s nine automatic qualifiers will be cemented early Sunday at the Italian Open, with Stephen Gallacher making a spirited run at making it onto the side. Should Gallacher finish first or second, he’d bump Graeme McDowell, who’d be a certain captain’s pick, leaving McGinley with two available spots and three experienced Ryder Cup hands (Donald, Ian Poulter, Lee Westwood) vying for them. If Gallacher doesn’t earn an automatic spot, surely his form in Italy would garner some consideration, too. (He currently stands sixth in Italy, four shots out of second.)
Donald was hoping to use Boston to show his captain some better form. His opening 69 was a pretty solid effort out of the gate. On Saturday, his game was a mess. He hit only seven fairways, and nine greens.
McGinley has been encouraging to Donald (“He said I was still up near the top of the list of the choices he is going to make,” Donald had said a day earlier. “He didn’t say that I’m in, and he didn’t say that I’m not in, but he just said for me not to think about it too much, and to just go out and play like you know you can play.”)
Germany’s Martin Kaymer, who already has locked up his spot, wasn’t saying who he’d be picking, but he did talk about the value of experience. Said Kaymer, “At the end of the day, I think you have to ask yourself who will get you the points in the singles … that’s very important.”
Donald has been part of four winning European teams, and has an overall record of 10-4-1. The Englishman just hasn’t shown any form of late, finishing inside the top 40 only once in eight starts since the BMW PGA at Wentworth. Saturday’s performance at TPC Boston left Donald feeling discouraged, and as darkness closed in, he set off for a late session on the practice tee.
“I never gave up out there,” he said. I was trying on every shot. It wasn’t easy for me today. It’s disappointing. I thought I was going to build off a reasonably solid round yesterday, but I didn’t play well today.”
It was only two holes, at the 11th hour no less, but there was something to be said for the way he closed. He’ll need to play better to earn a spot in Denver (likely needing to climb somewhere near 23rd place the next two days) and to show his captain something. Anything.
“At least I didn’t finish with a couple bogeys and be headed home, with the rest of my season done,” Donald said. “I’ve got two days ahead of me, with a lot to play for.”