No Fluke, Luke Donald Wins Regains #1 Ranking

Posted: March 18, 2012 by Kodi in Hitting the Greens

 

Luke Donald won the 2012 Transitions Championship and took his #1 ranking back

Rory McIlroy wasn’t in the field to defend his top spot but many were

It seemed like everyone had a chance at the lead on Sunday until the Snake Trap!

The 2012 Transitions Championship at the Innisbrook Resort’s Copperhead Course in Palm Harbor, Florida is one of the final tournaments before the PGA Tour’s first Major Championship. With the Masters at Augusta National looming in the near future some players have to decide whether or not to rest or fine tune their games before fighting for that elusive green jacket. There are 17 past major champions in the field this year and 4 of the top 10 best players according to the world golf rankings. Northern Irishmen Rory McIlroy currently holds the #1 spot but he chose to take this time off giving current #2 player Luke Donald the opportunity to regain the top spot.

After 3 rounds the leaders were PGA Veterans Jim Furyk and Retief Goosen who sat at  -11 through 54 holes. Goosen had shot a 3rd round low score of 65 while Furyk was right behind him with a 66. Furyk has won 16 times since joining the Tour and one of those victories came at this tournament in 2010, when his 3 stroke lead was good enough to beat K.J.. Choi by a single stroke. Retief Goosen on the other hand posted sub-70 rounds through 3 rounds and it seemed that his streak of not breaking the top 10 was coming to an end, a streak spanning back to the 2011 FedEx St. Jude Classic in 2011. Furyk and Goosen were the final pairing heading into Sunday’s 4th round  and one player would be right in it while another battled through injury.

There were around 8 or 9 golfers who had a chance to tie for the lead on the 18th green and the final 3 hole stretch played a vital role in this competition. The Snake Pit is a 1,120 yard stretch of hazardous terrain over the final 3 holes. This stretch at Copperhead can  bite and it starts with a 460 yard par 4 16th followed by a 215 yard par 3 17th and a 445 yard par 4 18th. The Snake Pit  lurks at the back end of the competitions scorecard and it doesn’t take long to know that you aren’t going to be making up many shots in the final three holes. The Snake Pit can proudly proclaim that all three holes ranked in the top 6 for difficulty but the 16th and 18th par 4’s were the two hardest holes on the course. In all there were just 85 birdies at those two holes over the tournament and 226 scores of bogey or worse throughout the course of the tournament.

The 16th ranked just .02 harder than the 18th but both were equally difficult and the Snake Pit was where this year’s Championship was determined. Scoot Piercy came out of the middle of nowhere when he set a course record -7 29 on the front 9 of the final round. He would go on to shoot a final round low score of 62 but it wasn’t enough. He had a chance to get to -13 with a long putt on 18 but by then his magic had burnt up. He played the Snake Pit at -1 but his playing partner, Kris Blanks, stole some of his thunder when he Aced the par 3 17th. Piercy would finish the tournament -12 just a shot behind the leaders.

Ernie Els was another player who was battling for the lead and he was -6 through 12 holes and was leading the pack with a score of -14 at the time. Els had just birdied 12 when he went to the par 3 13th’s tee box and crushed his shot within 6 feet of the hole. It looked like Els was going to knock in that putt and take a 2 stroke lead with 5 to play. Els would miss that putt and was forced to take par. Three more pars followed until Els got to the Par 3 17th where he would score a bogey to drop back to -13 and in a tie for the lead with the 18th still ahead of him. Els would miss the 18th green with his 2nd approach shot and was forced to chip it from the fringe. He left himself another 6 foot putt and this time he had to hit it to stay in a tie for the lead. Els has struggled with his putter before and he did once again on Sunday but all of that would have been forgotten if he drained this putt. Els would push the short putt left and would tap in for bogey, going +2 in the Snake Pit and finishing the round with a -4 67 and ended the tournament tied 1 stroke behind the leaders at -12.

When Els was putting to stay at -13 he already knew that there was one player who had finished his round with that score. That player was Robert Garrigus who  shot a final round -7 64 after birdying the final two holes in the Snake Pit. Garrigus had secured himself atop the leader board with the score of -13 for the tournament but he had plenty of competition playing behind him as he was just -6 through the first 54 holes. The big difference in Sunday’s round was his ability to finish strong. He was +4 in the final 3 holes through the first three rounds and he clearly learned from his mistakes.  Garrigus is a big hitter and those long par 4’s don’t play as long with him as they do other players. Garrigus however needs to work on his putting game as most players do because that is what eventually let him down.

With Garrigus in at -13 every player knew where the bar had been set and where they needed to be at through 72 holes. Ken Duke was sitting at -13 until the 17th hole when he had to take bogey. He knew that he needed a birdie on 18 and Duke actually gave himself that opportunity. Duke was not able to hit the winding putt and would fall one shot short of the leaders at -12.

Luke Donald has played incredibly well over the past few years and that was apparent as he was the #1 ranked golfer in the world until Rory McIlroy took over that seat just two weeks ago. Donald was fighting to win that top spot back and fell just a few shots behind last week but this week Rory wasn’t playing and the English-born Chicagoan was ready to reclaim what was rightfully his. He was three shots behind Furyk and Goosen when the day started but a bogey free round -5 66 was enough to tie him for the lead with Garrigus. Donald had many opportunities to take the outright lead as many of these golfers did but he finished his final 6 regulation holes with a score of par.

The leader going into the final round could have easily been South Korean Sang-Moon Bae but he was bitten by the par 4 16th in the third round. Bae would score a triple bogey 7 on the 16 before finishing the round birdie, par. Instead of having a two stroke lead Bae was trailing the leaders by 1 stroke coming into Sunday’s final round. Bae played a conservative 4th round and had to hit a difficult 6 and a half foot putt for par to stay at -13 on the 18. Up until that point Bae had hit 18 of his 18 putts between 4-8 feet and it seemed like if the young man’s nerves were going to make him miss one this was the putt. Bae drained the putt and would tie Garrigus and Donald atop the leader board at -13 through 72 holes.

Goosen and Furyk were the leaders heading into Sunday but while Retief Goosen was warming up he was feeling stiffness in his back. Goosen would double bogey the 1st hole and bogey the 2nd and 5th holes to start the front 9 +4 through 5. Goosen would not withdraw and kept battling through the 4th round despite playing his way out of competing for the lead. He would birdie 3 and bogey 3 of the final 9 holes to finish the day with a +4 75 and would finish tied for 20th. His playing partner Jim Furyk started off hot with an eagle on on but bogeyed the 2nd hole. He would birdie the 5th an d 11th before bogeying the 13th to keep drop his score to -13 through 14. Furyk had a chance to take the lead on the 17th and 18th holes but was unable to sink any birdie putts. He would finish the day with a -2 69 and tied for the lead with 3 other golfers.

The four golfers Garrigus, Bae, Donald and Furyk would all replay the 18th for their first playoff hole. If any of the golfers were still tied afterwards they would then go to the 16th and the 17th after that. Bae and Garrigus seemed to have an advantage as they were the big hitters of the four and both players drilled their tee shots into the fairway. Donald put pressure on both players when his strong iron game put his shot just a few feet away from a difficult green. Jim Furyk laced his shot past the hole but still was on the dance floor and would eventually miss his birdie putt and tap in for par. Bae’s ball would land on the green and trail away from the pin and down to a low spot on the green.

Bae would miss his birdie putt as well and it was up to Garrigus and Donald. Garrigus could see Donald’s ball close to the pin but he had a short 110 yard shot to the green because of a huge drive off the tee. Garrigus had a similar shot when he played the 18th earlier in the day and his birdie then put him in the lead. Garrigus hit another great approach shot just feet away from the hole but not as close as Donald. Robert Garrigus would approach his birdie putt on the playoff hole hoping to put the pressure on Luke Donald. Garrigus would miss the putt and Donald has a short putt to win the Transitions Championship and regain the #1 ranking.

Donald would sink the putt and just as he did 43 weeks ago in a playoff win against Lee Westwood, Luke Donald had regained the top spot in golf. Donald had held the #1 ranking for 40 consecutive weeks before McIlroy took it from him and Rory held the ranking for just a few weeks. Both players will be looking forward to the Masters at Augusta National but with the #1 ranking on the line once again both players will have more than the green jacket as inspiration.

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