Former No. 1 Donald opens season at Riviera, with praise for ‘classic course’

The ninth hole at Riviera Country Club features distinctive George C. Thomas bunkering.


When Luke Donald shows up at Riviera Country Club this week, he surely will meet the media, but there won’t be any laser light shows ala Rory McIlroy, and there might not even be standing room only, as often is the case with Tiger Woods.

However, as the Englishman makes his 2013 debut on the PGA Tour in the Northern Trust Open, he’s always more than happy to fly under the radar, with much more attention given to Woods and McIlroy – the only players ahead of him in the World Golf Rankings.

“Players like Rory and Tiger come around once in a lifetime,” Donald said recently. “They have that ‘wow’ factor and they have so many fans following them.

“I’m a different type of player, and I certainly understand the frenzy around them.”

There won’t be any of that his week at Riviera, because McIlroy and Woods won’t be there, waiting until next week to play again in the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship.

Donald will share the spotlight at Riviera, one of his favorite courses, with the likes of Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, Bubba Watson, Lee Westwood, Dustin Johnson, Webb Simpson, Keegan Bradley, Adam Scott and Matt Kuchar.

“I’m always excited to be at Riviera,” said Donald, who spent 55 weeks at No. 1 in the world during the last two years before giving way to McIlroy. “I think it’s one of the great classic courses that we play all year, and I just love playing this event.

“It’s a great (George C. Thomas) design, too. I enjoy the challenge of working it both ways, and I think it (only has been) changed a little bit over the years.

“I’ve had some success here.”

Donald is playing at Riviera for the 12th consecutive season, and had a terrific three-year run at the course when he tied for third in 2008, tied for sixth the following year and finished solo second, two strokes behind Steve Stricker in 2010.

His cumulative score for those three years was 33-under-par, but then he shot 68-79 – 147 to miss the cut at the course they call Hogan’s Alley in 2011 and tied for 56th last year, playing the course in a combined 12-over.

“This course is tough (even) with benign conditions,” said Donald, who has claimed three of his five titles on the PGA Tour in the last two seasons.

“…I think around the greens is important. These greens are tricky. If you can putt well around here, it’s going to help. I mean, the biggest adjustment for me, I practice in South Florida on pretty perfect, smooth Bermuda greens. To come here and play on poa annua, it’s a big adjustment.

“But it’s still one of those classic courses that I always look forward to coming to.”

When McIlroy switched from Titleist to Nike equipment this season, the press conference in Abu Dhabi last month was viewed by many to be more than a little over the top.

Donald had an announcement recently too, that he was sticking with Mizuno, which he has played his entire career, and the news barely made a ripple by comparison.

“I like to stick to what I know,” said Donald, who looked at other clubs but decided to stay put, in part because he is not required to have 14 Mizuno clubs in his bag. “I’ve been with them for 10 years, and I’ve never been one to tinker.

“I would find it hard, unless the contract was substantial, to play all 14 clubs. I would be lying if I said I didn’t try other equipment, but I’m still very uncomfortable committing to play all 14 clubs. I like to have flexibility with the driver and the putter.”

For the record, all of Donald’s wedges and irons are made by Mizuno, and he also plays the TaylorMade Rocketbalz driver and 3-wood, plus the Odyssey White Hot Tour XG putter.

And he’s done quite well with them, making a big move in the last few years from being a good player to one on the verge of greatness.

About the only thing missing from his resume is a major championship.

“I feel as if I am playing as well as ever at this stage in my career,” said Donald, who two years ago became the first player to win the money titles on both sides of the Atlantic. “Over the next few years I want to be in a position to win major championships.

“…Nothing new. I’ve been trying to win one of those for the last 10 years.”

Even with Woods and McIlroy around, who knows, this might be his year.


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