Luke Donald and 5 More Skilled Bunker Players on PGA Tour

Steve SilvermanFeatured ColumnistSeptember 12, 2012

Luke Donald and 5 More Skilled Bunker Players on PGA Tour

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    When amateurs play a round of golf, the blood pressure almost always goes up when there is a key shot from the bunker.

    Even if the amateur is a low handicapper, the idea of having to take an important bunker shot that could have an impact on the match often leads to a case of nerves.

    It's just the opposite on the pro tour. Give a golfer a greenside bunker shot and you will see a player calmly take his sand wedge out of his bag, walk up to his ball, survey the situation and hit a shot that is likely to be eight feet or less from the hole.

    However, while nearly all pros know they can make their bunker shots, some are better than others. Here's a look at six of the best current bunker players on the tour.

Ernie Els

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    With Ernie Els, you have to check out the hands.

    Els keeps his hands so soft and relaxed that it looks like hitting the ball from the bunker is his preferred lie.

    It's not, but it seems like there are few players who can execute shots from the bunker with the deft touch Els has. It's a combination of confidence and experience.

    Els' most notable bunker shot took place in the 2002 British Open when he found himself in a pot bunker on the 13th hole (10-second mark) and somehow managed to get the ball out of the hazard and have it come to rest about 18 inches from the hole.

Luke Donald

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    Few players in golf history have ever had the consistency from the bunker that Luke Donald has had.

    He has led the PGA Tour in sand saves in three of the past six years.

    Donald has picture-perfect fundamentals when it comes to getting out of the greenside bunker and getting the ball into an excellent putting position.

    Watching Donald work his magic in the bunker is akin to Michael Phelps in an Olympic swimming pool. It seems like he knows what it takes to get the job done, and he always executes his plan.

Phil Mickelson

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    Phil Mickelson seems like a magician any time he has any of the wedges in his hands.

    That includes the sand wedge.

    Mickelson says that the key to becoming an excellent bunker player is understanding that it doesn't take strength to get the ball out of the hazard; it takes rhythm and timing.

    Mickelson went from 83rd to third in sand-save percentage in 2008 as he realized that his practice for bunker play should be limited to shots from 10 yards or less.

    Mickelson says he draws an imaginary three-foot circle around the hole and his goal is to get the ball in the circle because he knows he can always make the putt. "My record is hitting that shot 28-straight times in the circle," Mickelson said.

Justin Rose

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    Justin Rose is one of the best bunker players on the tour.

    During the 2012 season, Rose ranks fifth in sand-save percentage, and he says that hitting the ball out of the bunker is one of the parts of his game that he has the most confidence.

    You will notice in the video above that Rose uses a very wide stance when he hits the ball out of the bunker. He does this to make the angle of impact less extreme when the club face is making contact with the ball.

    Rose also tries to line up so that his sternum is slightly in front of the ball. Rose believe that will help the ball get directly on line with the flag stick.

Carl Pettersson

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    Carl Pettersson is one of the most underrated players on the PGA Tour. The 2012 season has been an excellent one for the Swedish native as he has won just under $3.4 million in prize money.

    Pettersson has one tournament win this year, two second-place finishes, one third-place finish and has been in the top 10 six times.

    One of the greatest reasons for his success is his bunker play. He has 88 sand saves and ranks 17th on the tour in save percentage (source: PGATour.com). His upper body is almost tension free in the video above as he practices his bunker shots

Jim Furyk

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    Jim Furyk does not have a classic golf swing, and he is not going to win many long drive competitions.

    However, he is an accomplished shot maker who knows how to handle pressure and can hit most clutch shots with relative ease.

    This year, Furyk has won just under $3.1 million on the tour, and his ability to execute from the bunker is a big part of it.

    Furyk is the third-ranked player on the tour in sand-save percentage. He has saved 79-of-122 opportunities (source: PGATour.com), and that's a big reason why he finished in the top 10 in six events this year.