Luke Donald is thinking about what might be, Ernie Els can only think about what might have been Sunday in a dramatic finish that saw Donald walk away with the Transitions Championship and reclaim his No. 1 ranking in the world of golf.
Els had the tournament firmly in his grasp, he was 14-under par through 15 holes at Innisbrook’s Copperhead course and had just hit his second shot within five feet for birdie at the difficult 16th. He missed that short putt then suffered bogeys on each of the final two holes.
He hit a poor tee shot at the 218-yard 17th that left him short right and he had no shot at saving par. Then Els shot himself in the foot on the 18th green when he missed a three-foot par putt that would have put him at 13-under par and in a playoff with Donald, Jim Furyk, Robert Garrigus and Sang Moon Bae.
Instead, it was Donald who went back to the 18th to take on those three. Donald was first to hit his approach to the 425-yard par four and he stuck it within six feet. Garrigus matched him, landing just outside Donald’s ball from 116-yards out after a monster drive.
Disappointing second shots left both Furyk and Bae with lengthy birdie putts they both failed to convert.
Garrigus missed his bid for birde and Donald calmly found the inside left of the cup and walked away with his fifth PGA Tour win and returned to the top of the World Golf Rankings, jumping over idle Rory McIlroy, who moved into the spot two weeks ago at the Honda Classic.
Donald shot 66 for his final round and had to wait for about an hour while Els, Furyk and Bae finished. Garrigus shot 64 and had a four-hour wait to learn that he was in the playoff.
Another trio besides Els finished one out of the playoff. Scott Piercy posted a spectacular 62 and was done four hours before the leaders teed off. Overton shot 66 and Ken Duke a 68 to finish 12-under.
The win had Donald looking forward to his next appearance and that will come at the Masters in three weeks.
“It’s another step in the right direction,” Donald said of his victory. “It’s a perfect preparation for Augusta.”
Was Donald contemplating regaining the No. 1 ranking? “No, I was focused on trying to win this tournament,” he said. Donald played steady early. “I had my eye on the leaders,” he recounted. “I birdied 11 to get to 13-under. I had a good chance for another birdie at 14 but didn’t make it.”
His run of seven straight pars to close out his day was good enough for him to post 13-under, 271. He then watched and waited and saw the misfortunes that cost Els the tournament and an invitation to the Masters.
Els was in the left center of the fairway at the final hole, 165 yards out. He pulled his approach but he was just off the green on the fringe and putted three feet past the hole. “I pulled my putt,” Els said as he stood near the 18th green, head down.