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Luke Donald column: Players Championship missed cut & Chelsea win the league

Luke Donald column: Players Championship missed cut & Chelsea win the league
April 22
06:50 2017
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Friday

This is a course you have to be really on your game to compete on and have a chance to win. I fought really hard the last couple of days but I’m just playing too defensively off the tee.

As good as my short game and putting is, even though I missed a couple of short ones today, it is just hard to create momentum and get on a roll when you’re not quite in position off the tee.

It’s certainly not easy out there. I made a nice birdie on 16 – and when we were on that green we watched Phil Mickelson and Jordan Spieth both hit it in the water on the 17th.

That green at the top was just rock hard, so it was difficult to be aggressive. I hit a really good shot there to about 18ft, hit a good putt, but these new greens are tough to read.

I was aggressive on the last, hit driver and then a nine iron and another good putt. Had either of those birdie chances gone in, I would have been here for the weekend.

It wasn’t to be, unfortunately, but the damage was done on six, seven and eight. I missed a short one on the sixth, hit a terrible drive on seven and made a double bogey and missed a short one on the eighth.




Suddenly I was four over par on three holes and I was always playing catch-up from then. Even though I was under the cosh, I played better because I was more aggressive and it became more of a challenge in my mind.

I just have to try to get a bit better each week because I know my short game from inside 100 yards and my putting is good enough to compete with the best. The rest just needs to sharpen up and I will keep persevering.

Off the course this week, it was nice to have the company of my wife Diane, who drove up on Wednesday. It was good because she is often home with the kids. We had a couple of nice meals.

Every week is a similar routine to be honest – I wasn’t going out partying until 2am or anything like that! It was a nice week, unfortunately spoiled by a couple of errant tee shots and missed putts.

And to cap it all, as a Tottenham fan, I’ve just found out that Chelsea have won the league. I suppose it was inevitable, their run-in looked reasonably straightforward.

Hats off to Chelsea – I suppose I have to say – through gritted teeth.

Thursday

They are such fine margins on the Stadium Course. I just hit a couple of bad shots that really cost me; the second shot I pulled into the water on 18, where I made a double bogey, and I hit another one left on the seventh and it rolled into the water.

Having started on the 10th, I fought really hard and had a nice run of three birdies in a row including the famous 17th. At that point I was in a good spot at two under.

It’s funny, one of my friends a couple of days ago texted me saying he thought it would take him two days to finish that 17th hole. For us it’s a relatively simple wedge or nine iron to a green that’s a decent size for that amount of club. But obviously you surround it with water and it makes it a little bit more difficult. And they put the pins close to the edge and certainly the water is very much in play.

Today the wind was in off the left, which is different, and it was 123 yards. It was a pitching wedge for me, taking a couple of yards off it and I played it just where I wanted to just to the left of the pin. I had 16 feet for birdie and knocked it in. It was lovely to make a two there and I had some momentum going.

The fans are all around the tee. It is the hole that this course is most known for and it’s one of the better par-threes in the world. Interestingly those always seem to be short yardages, there are not too many long par-threes I can think of that would get into that category. It is a very, very well-designed hole.

Luke Donald
Donald rolled in from 16 feet to record a birdie at 17

Before the tournament, we highlighted the new driveable par-four 12th. Today, there was a left-to-right wind and, with that in mind, I was never going to go for the green off the tee. I just laid up with a four iron but I misjudged my second shot from 95 yards and had to two-putt from just off the back of the green.

I know I have my work cut out in the second round to make the cut. I will try to pick off the holes that give opportunities and make sure I play the tough ones well.

It’s quite simple, you have to go out there and execute every shot, it is one of those courses. Pin positions can make it very tricky to get close because of how the greens are designed.

There are birdie opportunities, though. I made four in the first round but just made too many mistakes – hopefully that won’t be the case in the second round.

Wednesday

The Players is such an important tournament. It is certainly a step above our regular Tour events, probably not quite to the major status, but it certainly fits right in just behind the majors.

It’s one of the best fields, we play on an iconic golf course and it is a tournament everyone wants on their resume for sure. I’ve come close in the past and would dearly love to win out here.




Preparing this week has involved accommodating the course changes, which include the new short par-four 12th. The course being slightly altered and renovated brings a freshness to the place that we haven’t seen.

So we are relearning some of it because the past knowledge that we had is not quite the same. It is a course that demands a lot out of your game, the Championship produces great winners and you can’t argue with that.

I saw the new 12th hole for the first time and it is an interesting driveable par-four. I feel like a lot of people will still lay up but some will definitely go for it.

A lot of golfers out here have a big ego and they feel like they can take it on, which is a good design feature. But it’s a reasonably simple lay-up and simple pitch to a somewhat flat green.

Garcia win made me cry – McIlroy

You will pretty much have a plan before playing the hole. I will talk to my caddie and figure it out, but I have to play to my strengths – and they are not hitting 300-yard straight drives. That’s just a reality that I have to come to terms with.

My strengths are 100 yards and in, so if I can put myself in a good position from there I’m going to create birdie chances. The risk of going for it for me isn’t worth it, so it is likely I will lay up every day.

I’ve been working on my swing to control my ball flight a little bit better off the tee. If I get it in play then I can let my irons and my short game do the work. That’s the preparation I’ve been doing leading up to this week.

There’s been a lot of talk in the media about the tournament moving back to its original March date with August’s PGA Championship fitting into this May week.

I remember the Players course played more difficult in March. There was more rough and certainly more wind. Wind and firmness are the two factors that make golf courses more difficult.

This time of year the course is a little firmer compared with March but you get a lot less wind and more favourable weather conditions.

March would probably be a good slot for this tournament. You might have more weather issues but it would make the course more difficult if that’s what their goal is.

Luke Donald
Donald, now ranked 73 in the world, is still working to improve his swing

It would affect the rhythm of the golfing year if it moved back to March and the PGA Championship took the May slot. It would feel strange at first but after a few years we would get into the mode of that being the case.

It would be a bit weird having the Open Championship as the last major in July and then have to wait eight months until the Masters in April for the next major.

It would condense the schedule a little bit and people would have to play a bit more in the middle of the season.

We just have to be very grateful for the tournaments and the prize money and everything that we get to play for. If the calendar is in a different order I don’t think it will make too much of a difference.

The only thing with the PGA moving to May would be eliminating some really good North East golf courses in America because the weather conditions probably aren’t good enough to get those courses in good enough shape to stage a major.

Coming into this week, my form and confidence are a mixed bag. I’ve had some good weeks and my game is close.

I am still working very hard on aspects of my golf swing that I’ve been working on for a couple of years. I keep slipping back and it is very hard with such a busy season to get those changes cemented in, but I’m making progress.

Last month, at the RBC Heritage at Hilton Head – where I was second again – was a good week. It’s always a good week for me there. That’s given me confidence.

My short game that week was as good as it has ever been, my putting was very solid and that’s how I build my game.

If I can keep that strong and continually improve some of the little weaknesses in my swing and long game then expect to see me rising up those rankings again.

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