2006: Attention getter
Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
A day before Luke Donald won the Honda Classic in style, it was still unclear as to whether people had been paying enough attention to the 28-year-old Englishman.
“Over here (America), he’s just very under the radar,” said his caddie and older brother, Christian, leaning on the outside of the scoring trailer after the third round. “Definitely, they tend to forget about him.”
Even Christian loses track of him every so often. On the putting green early Saturday, for instance, Christian unzipped a pocket on rookie Jeff Overton’s blue Mizuno golf bag, thinking it was his brother’s, and dropped in two bananas. A minute later, he realized his mistake, one that seemed to fit the norm here at Mirasol’s severely taunting Sunrise Course, where most people at one point or another tend to go bananas.
Some of that craziness came early in the week, as Thursday’s strong winds, combined with the Sunrise Course’s signature undulating greens and severe runoffs, frustrated many.
The carnage led to 13 scores in the 80s and one in the 90s, the highest first-round scoring average (74.277) on Tour this year and satisfaction for many players that this tournament is moving across the street next year to PGA National.
Suddenly not so in favor of that decision is Donald, who last year purchased a home in Palm Beach Gardens, and on March 12 slammed a 203-yard 5-iron to 4 feet on the final hole to hold off recent WGC-Match Play champion Geoff Ogilvy by two strokes and earn $990,000.
The shot, which drew slightly while aided by a bit of wind, also sent thunderous shockwaves through the sparse Honda gallery, braving a tournament The Miami Herald earlier in the week had dubbed “The PGA Tour’s equivalent of the Florida Marlins” – because of its obvious lack of star power.
Donald, who closed with a 3-under 69, provided better mudslinging.
“When I got to the ball (in the 18th fairway), there was a bit of mud on it, which was strange,” said Donald. “I had not had mud all week, and I must have just landed in the upslope where it was a bit softer. I was just hoping mud didn’t affect the ball at all.”
Rare is the ball that lands within 10 feet of that tucked-left pin position, which the Englishman attacked with the confidence of another Donald (as in Trump).
“Luckily, it flew perfectly,” said Donald, whose birdie on 18 put him at 12-under 276 for his second Tour victory, albeit the first one that felt complete. In his rookie season, he won the 2002 Southern Farm Bureau Classic when heavy rain forced officials to call the event after 54 holes.
“It’s a strange feeling when they tell you you’ve won, even though you haven’t played the fourth round,” said Donald, who also has two PGA European Tour victories. “This one, obviously, is more rewarding I think with all of the hard work I’ve put in the last couple of years, and to finish that strongly and to finish it off in style means a lot to me.”
Thirteen players began the final round within five shots of the lead, including defending champion Padraig Harrington, who proved last year with his final-round 63 just how bizarre things can get here.
On Sunday, Ogilvy was Donald’s closest challenger as Billy Mayfair and Jeff Gove failed to escape big numbers and David Toms ran out of holes.
While everyone else was up and down, Donald stayed his steady self, which is the reason he hasn’t missed a cut on any tour since last year’s FBR Open and has an average finish of 17th in that span. He made back-to-back birdies on 13 and 14 to take the lead, then rolled in a tricky 18-footer at No. 16 to save par.
Consistent beats crazy, and that’s where Donald thrives. He made three birdies and no bogeys over the last six holes, one-putting each of them.
“I’m very steady, and that’s the main reason why I think if I keep playing the way I’m playing, there’s no reason why I can’t strive to be the best player in the world,” Donald said.
That – along with his play at Mirasol – is the kind of statement that makes people take notice.