At 41, Luke Donald on Valspar charge: 'I'm good enough to compete and win'

luke donald Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

At 41, Luke Donald on Valspar charge: 'I'm good enough to compete and win'

PGA Tour

At 41, Luke Donald on Valspar charge: 'I'm good enough to compete and win'

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Former world No. 1 Luke Donald is minding his back and biding his time as he carefully continues his comeback to the game from a herniated disc.

A 4-under-par 67 in Thursday’s first round of the Valspar Championship was a pleasant boost in his determined journey.

Playing for the first time since the Sony Open in Hawaii in January and playing for just the 12th time since the start of 2018, Donald hit the first page of the leaderboard with five birdies against a lone bogey. On the difficult Copperhead Course at the Innisbrook Resort in Palm Harbor, Fla., he trailed leaders Joel Dahmen and Sepp Straka by one shot.

Donald, who won this event in 2012, was in a group in third place that included Russell Knox, who made an albatross on the par-5 11th when he holed a 3-wood from 275 yards. It was the first albatross in the tournament’s 19-year history.

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“It’s been a bit of a struggle the last year,” said Donald, who was the PGA Tour’s player of the year in 2011. “Obviously struggling with some back stuff and working hard at it, but backs are tricky, and they take a little bit of time. Honestly my goal this week is to play four rounds and feel pretty good at the end of four rounds and then keep going.

“To play well is a nice bonus.”

Donald, 41, who played on four Ryder Cup teams for Europe, has 17 worldwide wins, five coming on the PGA Tour. He hasn’t won since the 2013 Dunlop Phoenix Tournament in Japan and hasn’t won on the PGA Tour since the 2012 Valspar. But he still thinks there are victories ahead.

“I still think I’m good enough to compete and win and be one of the better players in the world. I’ve done it before so there’s no reason why not,” said Donald, who is 919th in the world rankings. “We have seen lots of players around my age who have been very successful, even Justin Rose is only a couple years younger than me and still playing great golf.

“It’s a little bit of a different style of golf that I play because there’s certain courses that I’m just going to struggle on just because I don’t hit it quite far enough these days. But there are courses out there I can compete and do well at and win.”

Donald is playing on a medical extension and must limit his practice and training. Instead of hitting golf balls for six hours a day and playing a round of golf every day, he’s spending two to three hours a day doing exercises for his back and then practices for a bit.

“I’m not going full bore, but I have been working as much as I can on my game and it’s nice to come to a familiar place that I’ve played some good rounds around and shoot a good score,” said Donald, who is making his 11th appearance in the tournament. “People go through injuries, it’s just part of sport. I’ve been really pretty lucky, this is my 18th season and I only had six months off for a wrist injury throughout those 18 seasons, so this is going to happen.

“Forty years old, they say things start breaking down a little bit, but hopefully this is pretty short-term and now I can go on for a few more years and enjoy some good golf.”

Thursday’s scores

Joel Dahmen -5

Sepp Straka -5

Russel Knox -5

Kevin Kisner -4

Luke Donald -4

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