No longer No. 1, Donald sees room for improvement

March 6, 2012

Don't get the idea that Luke Donald was camped out in front of his television for the final hour of the Honda Classic, waiting to see if Rory McIlroy would win and replace him as No. 1 in the world.

''I was actually with my daughters at the playground,'' Donald said Tuesday at Doral.

Donald was No. 1 for 40 weeks, the longest of anyone except for Tiger Woods in the last 15 years. Sunday was the 49th time the No. 1 ranking had traded hands, and only 10 players had a longer stay at the top than Donald. The record belongs to Woods at 281 weeks.

Donald's first thought about seeing that McIlroy won was that he now had room for improvement, at least in the ranking.


''It's hard to go very far when you're No. 1,'' Donald said. ''But no, I didn't give it too much thought. That's what happens. I've had a little bit of a slow start. Rory has played well and deservedly overtook me. I've never really questioned the world ranking system. It's an unbiased, mathematical system, and he's done enough to get to No. 1.''

Donald and Lee Westwood, whom Donald supplanted at No. 1 last May, could return to the top this week at Doral, though that could depend on how McIlroy fares.

Westwood said he was talking to Donald on the putting green Tuesday. He greeted Donald by calling him ''No. 2.''

''He looked at me and nodded and he said, 'Yeah, it's sort of a bit of a relief.' He said, 'There's only one way to go when you're No. 1.' At least there's more than one way to go at No. 2,'' Westwood said. ''You're at the top there and everybody shoots at you. But I think that's the position you want to be in. You want the position everyone is envious of.''

McIlroy became the fourth player in 16 months to be No. 1, and it has changed hands five times since Woods' 281-week reign ended in November 2010.

''I think it adds a little bit of interest,'' Donald said. ''When Tiger was No. 1, no one really talked about the world rankings much, and maybe the big talking point was who was in the top 50.''


TENNIS ANYONE?: Rory McIlroy never felt more nervous before a big crowd.

Trying to hold onto a two-shot lead at the Honda Classic over Tiger Woods as he tried to win and go to No. 1 in the world? No, it was the next night at Madison Square Garden, when he was called onto the tennis court during an exhibition between girlfriend Carolina Wozniacki and Maria Sharapova.

He won his point against Sharapova, although the ''rally'' began with an underhand serve by the 22-year-old from Northern Ireland.

''I've never been so nervous in my life,'' McIlroy said. ''I can hit a golf shot in front of a million people, but getting up there ... I mean, I wanted to hit a serve, but I was thinking, if I frame this into the crowd, it's going to look so bad. Maria was nice, she hit it back to me at quite a gentle pace.''

How did he wind up on the court?

Sharapova asked someone from the crowd to dance with her, and Wozniacki asked the crowd if there were any ''hot guys'' for her.

''I'm like, 'Well, I don't want anyone else dancing with you,' so I put my hand up,'' McIlroy said. ''Thank God she didn't ask me to dance. I was much happier hitting a tennis shot.''


TIGER IN BAY HILL: If there were any questions that Tiger Woods was swapping out Bay Hill for the Honda Classic, he put those to rest by announcing he would be back at Arnold Palmer's place, where he has won six times.

Woods lived about 10 minutes away from Bay Hill all his career before moving to south Florida last fall.

''Certain courses fit your eye, and this is one of them,'' Woods said. ''I can see my lines on the greens, and the fairways set up well for shaping my shots. I've always enjoyed playing there.''

His decision to play Bay Hill gives Woods his busiest pre-Masters schedule since 2006. Bay Hill will be his sixth tournament this year. He played seven times in 2006, when The Players Championship was in March and Woods last played Riviera.


GONE FROM DORAL: A couple of ugly finishes left Jim Furyk little hope of getting into Doral, where he is a past champion. First, he lost a 3-up lead to Dustin Johnson and was eliminated in the first round of the Match Play Championship. Then, he opened with a 68 at the Honda Classic but shot 74 to miss the cut by one shot. Furyk missed an 8-foot birdie putt on the last hole.

He is No. 61 in the world, ineligible for a World Golf Championship for the first time since this series began in 1999.

Ditto for Ernie Els, who has fallen to No. 65. Els narrowly got into the Match Play Championship and beat top-seeded Luke Donald in the opening round. But because all the top players were there, it was hard to move up without advancing deep into the bracket.

Ian Poulter has the longest streak of consecutive WGCs at 25, followed by Martin Kaymer and Lee Westwood at 16. That streak includes the HSBC Champions at Shanghai, which became a WGC event in 2009.


HONDA AND KOBE: Tiger Woods shot 62 in the final round of the Honda Classic, then retreated to the locker room to see if it would be enough for a playoff. He had the golf on one TV, and the Heat-Lakers game on the other.

''We had the volume turned down on the golf and up on the Lakers game,'' Woods said Sunday.


STAT OF THE WEEK: Greg Norman in 2002 was the last non-Asian to receive a special invitation from the Masters.


FINAL WORD: ''My dad always said to me, 'If you're good enough, you're old enough.''' - U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy, who at 22 went to No. 1 in the world.