Luke Donald returned to No. 1 in the world with win at Transitions Championship
The Briton lost top spot to 2011 U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy two weeks ago
Donald clinched victory on Sunday with victory in a four-man playoff
The 34-year-old started the final round three shots of the leaders
When Luke Donald became the first player to top the PGA and European Tour money lists in December last year, it seemed unimaginable the Briton’s position at the top of world golf would be called into question just three months later.
But following U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy’s victory at Palm Beach a fortnight ago, Donald found himself knocked off top spot for the first time in 40 weeks and having to prove he was capable of recreating his record-breaking form of 2011.
Donald’s emphatic response to his doubters came on Sunday, as he overcame a three-shot deficit heading into the final round to clinch a playoff triumph at the Transitions Championship in Florida.
“I think people thought that my last year was maybe a little bit more of a, not a fluke, but I don’t think many people thought I could do that all over again this year,” Donald told the PGA Tour’s official website. “Hopefully I can prove them wrong.”
The 34-year-old holed a birdie putt on the first additional hole to defeat American duo Jim Furyk and Robert Garrigus and South Korea’s Sang-moon Bae, having carded a five-under-par 65 to launch himself into contention.
When asked if he felt he had been disregarded by some following McIlroy’s brief reign at the top, Donald responded: “Absolutely. I don’t pay too much attention to it, but I certainly wasn’t in the media at all.”
One of the first players to congratulate Donald on his return to the top of the rankings was McIlroy, who used his official Twitter account to say: “Well I enjoyed it while it lasted! Congrats @LukeDonald! Impressive performance!”
Donald, who is now guaranteed to occupy the No. 1 position heading into the Masters next month, backed his European Ryder Cup teammate to maintain his challenge at the top of the sport.
“I’m sure he got a taste of the view and I’m sure he’ll want more of it. He’s a great player,” Donald said of the 22-year-old. “I think golf is in a good spot right now. There’s a lot of excitement going on.”
Donald, Furyk (69), Garrigus (64) and Bae (68) finished the tournament on 13 under, one stroke clear of American trio Scott Piercy (62), Jeff Overton (66) and Ken Duke (68).
Also on 12 under was South African three-time major winner Ernie Els, who led the field on 14 under with just three holes to play.
Bogies on the 17th and 18th holes saw Els’ challenge fade and they could ultimately cost the “Big Easy” a spot at the Masters.
“It’s going to be tough,” said world No. 62 Els, who would have qualified for the prestigious Augusta event with victory.
“I’m pretty hot now, and it’s difficult to talk with a straight head here. If I take stock, I think I’m playing good golf, and I’ve got to head into the next couple of weeks trying to get a win.”
Els now has just two tournaments to qualify for the year’s first major. The veteran’s best chance might come at next week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational as the event is skipped by a lot of the game’s biggest names.
American Bo van Pelt (66) finished alone in ninth on 11 under, one shot ahead of compatriots Matt Kuchar, Webb Simpson, Kevin Streelman and Jason Dufner.
Spain’s Sergio Garcia (70) finished on eight under in a four-way tie for 16th, ahead of 2010 British Open winner Louis Oosthuizen (68) and three-time major champion Padraig Harrington (71) – who were part of a nine-way tie for 20th.