Tiger Woods Can't Forget About Luke Donald in Chase to Unseat Rory McIlroy

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Tiger Woods Can't Forget About Luke Donald in Chase to Unseat Rory McIlroy
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To most golf enthusiasts, the battle for the golfing world's top spot is a two-man race.

On one side of the proverbial ring, we have 14-time major championship victor Tiger Woods, who is considered the all-around favorite at the 2013 Masters. Over the past year, Tiger emitted his usual dominance off the tee and with the long irons, though his short-approach game and putting were notably below average.

Staring Tiger straight in the face is a Northern Irishman who currently sits at World No. 1, and who has won two majors (to Tiger's zero) over the past two seasons while beating his rival heads-up at their infamous Duel at Jinsha Lake earlier this fall.

Of course, we're talking about Rory McIlroy here. And it's understandable why most Tiger fans would believe he's the only obstacle that TW needs to worry about in order to take back the No. 1 ranking.

But wait.

Those who think the fight for links dominance is simply "mano-y-mano" are forgetting someone. There's currently one other golfer who deserves to be in the conversation, and is actually higher than Tiger in the World Rankings at the moment, sitting at the No. 2 spot.

We'll give you a hint.

In 2011, he became the first player to sit atop both the PGA Tour and European Tour money lists, and the first Englishman to win PGA Player of the Year, while also winning the Vardon and Mark H. McCormack awards for lowest scoring average and most weeks at world No. 1.

Here's another hint: he's sponsored by Mizuno and has appeared in these hilarious TV spots.

Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images
That's crispy.

 

In case that didn't do it for you, we'll spoil it: we're talking about Luke Donald, a short-game specialist that Tiger must also have to go through before regaining his spot as "alpha dog" of the golfing world. 

While Donald's 2012 season wasn't quite as otherworldly as his 2011 campaign, the 11-year PGA veteran still clocked in a solid performance, finishing 14th on the PGA Tour money list with $3.5 million in earnings.

Donald won two PGA/European events this year, the Transitions Championship and the BMW PGA Championship and now has amassed 14 professional wins. But the reason most overlook this golfer is because he's lacking in the major championship department. Donald's closest finish in a 2012 major came at the Open Championship, where he finished tied for fifth.

It's notable that in his last 16 major starts, the Englishman has carded four top tens, and over the course of his career, Donald has notched a top-five finish in every major except the U.S. Open. 

When looking at his game, the reason that Luke Donald has consistently played among golf's greats for the better part of the past half-decade is his short game, specifically on the greens.

From 2009 to 2011—a remarkable run of consistency—Donald finished first on the PGA Tour in terms of total strokes gained from putting and finished in third place this year. Specifically in 2012, his average putts gained per round (.797) outpaced both Tiger (.332) and Rory (.087) by a significant amount.

Will Luke Donald regain the World No. 1 Ranking in 2013?

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Getting down to specifics, Donald is vastly superior to both of his peers when measuring mid-range putts; he actually finished first this year on Tour at putting from five to 15 feet, sinking an astounding 53.4% of his attempts. Tiger and Rory, meanwhile, were both in the 46-47% range, and it's no secret that this is an area that TW needs to work on.

From the bunkers, Donald is also aided by his unique approach using the heel of his sand wedge on pitch shots, which has allowed him to finish in the Tour's top 20 in sand save efficiency every year since 2009. Tiger has achieved this feat only once over this time, and Rory hasn't finished in the Top 20 in this category once in his illustrious career.

One other statistic that begs to be pointed out is final round scoring average in both major and non-major tournaments alike. In 2012, Luke Donald bested both Tiger (70.4) and Rory (69.8) in this category by averaging a final round score of 69.1.

In short, whether it's Donald's past success, short game prowess or ability to play the best when the pressure's on, there's no doubt that he has the mettle to win his first major championship in 2013 with a chance to outplay both Tiger and Rory when the year is said and done. At the very least, we should be considering the Englishman as a worthy roadblock in Tiger's quest to regain the World No. 1 Ranking. 


[1] All statistical data was obtained from PGATour.com

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