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Will Luke Donald Be Able to Regain Top Spot in 2013?

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Will Luke Donald Be Able to Regain Top Spot in 2013?
David Cannon/Getty Images
Luke Donald has one of the best short games on the PGA Tour.

As I watched the Waste Management Phoenix Open and all of its brilliant sunshine, a couple of things occurred to me.

One, none of the top-six players in this week’s World Golf Rankings were taking part in this birdie-fest at the TPC Scottsdale.

Two, when the best of the best get to the playing portion of their year, we may need to take a step back from that hysteria that has surrounded this century’s duel in the sun between Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods.

As we anxiously await battles between the two who will determine who’ll still be standing at the end of the shortened 2013 season, a guy who's been largely overlooked is someone who deserves some attention in this discussion.

Luke Donald.

You remember Donald, sharp-looking Englishman, went to Northwestern University and was the talk of the game in 2011. He won both the PGA and European Tour money lists as well as winning the Vardon and Mark H. McCormack awards for lowest scoring average and most weeks as the No. 1 player in the world.

Obviously, the man is an elite player, having held the No. 1 ranking in the world for 40 straight weeks between May 2011 and March 2012 when he was at his best. He and McIlroy leap-frogged each other in the standings until Donald sat in the top seat for 10 more weeks. All told, Donald has been the No. 1 player in the world for a total of 55 weeks.

What’s amazing about all of that is that Donald is not anything like Woods or McIlroy, the two golf kingpins at the moment. Power is a dominant presence in each of their games, but it is not nearly as big of a factor in Donald’s.

David Cannon/Getty Images
Luke Donald makes a lot of putts and hears a lot of cheers from the crowds.

He has never finished a season on the PGA Tour inside the Top 100 in driving distance. He’s never averaged 290 yards or more on measured drives.

So why in the world would a guy who is consistently 20 yards shorter on drives than the biggest hitters in the game be considered as someone whose name could be used in the same sentence as Woods and McIlroy?

Because the man has a short game that is envied, hits his irons better than most players and, when he really gets it going like he did in 2011, he rarely misses fairways. That was particularly true when he won the 2011 World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship.

As is usually the case, Donald was hitting first on most holes from the fairway and was able to find greens much easier, and that is a much more stress-free way to win a golf tournament.

And when you add to the mix his extraordinary putting talents, it does raise eyebrows as to why he hasn’t won more. As an example, in 2011, Donald had a streak of 434 holes without a three-putt.

His numbers in the average putts gained per round (.797) were much better than both Woods (.332) and McIlroy (.087) in 2012.

What’s missing in his game is something that all great players are judged by: a major title. His record in golf’s four biggest events each year isn’t terrible, as he finished tied for fifth in the Open Championship a year ago, and in his last major starts, he’s had four top-10 finishes. In the course of his career, Donald has a top-five finish in every major except the U.S. Open.

And that’s fine, but he needs to win one. He putts so well that you might think the Masters might be his best opportunity to win, but with this year’s U.S. Open being contested at shortish Merion Golf Club, his entire short game might give him a big advantage there.

Should that happen, given the closeness of the World Golf Rankings points between Woods, McIlroy and Donald, things could get very interested at the top.

And that’s why Donald goes about the business of winning golf tournaments, including majors, with the knowledge that most people have no problem leaving him out of that No. 1 discussion.

"Players like Rory and Tiger come around once in a lifetime," Donald told Golf.com. "They have that 'wow' factor and they have so many fans following them. I'm a different type of payer, and I certainly understand the frenzy around them."

Maybe he does, but boy would it be fun to have him get in the middle of all frenzy, if for no other reason than to give Woods and McIlroy something else to think about.

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