Don­ald wins in play­off and re­claims world’s top rank­ing

The Washington Times Daily - - Sports - BY DOUG FER­GU­SON

PALM HAR­BOR, FLA. | Luke Don­ald re­turned to No. 1 in the world the same way he got there the first time.

Don­ald ral­lied from a three-shot deficit Sun­day at the Tran­si­tions with a 5-un­der 66, then won a four-man play­off on the first ex­tra hole with a shot out of the rough to 6 feet and a birdie putt that curled in the left side of the cup.

He gave a big up­per­cut with his right fist to cel­e­brate the end of a wild day at In­nis­brook — and a dev­as­tat­ing fin­ish for Ernie Els.

Els was among eight play­ers who were tied for the lead at some point in the final round, and he had a one-shot lead go­ing into the clos­ing stretch known as the “Snake Pit” at the Cop­per­head course.

The Big Easy missed a 4-foot birdie putt on the 16th, and then badly missed a 4-foot par putt on the 18th hole that caused him to miss the play­off by one shot. He likely has to win in the next two weeks to avoid miss­ing the Mas­ters for the first time since 1993.

Don­ald ended Rory Mcil­roy’s twoweek stay atop the world rank­ing.

He first reached No. 1 in the world by win­ning a play­off over Lee West­wood at Went­worth last May. This re­quired more work as Don­ald had to beat Jim Furyk, Robert Gar­ri­gus and Bae Sang-moon in sud­den death.

Furyk, who closed with a 69, had an awk­ward lie just short of the bunker and left him­self a 40-foot putt. Bae (68) missed his birdie at­tempt from 18 feet. Gar­ri­gus, who birdied the last two holes in reg­u­la­tion for a 64, pounded his tee shot and hit wedge into 7 feet, but he pulled his birdie putt.

That set the stage for Don­ald, who had hit a su­perb shot from the rough that barely cleared the bunker.

“I was a lot more ner­vous the first time,” Don­ald said of get­ting to No. 1. “That cer­tainly wasn’t my fo­cus. I was just fo­cused on try­ing to win the tour­na­ment, and it worked out.” They all fin­ished at 13-un­der 271. Scott Piercy, who fin­ished his 62 be­fore the lead­ers teed off, joined Els (67), Ken Duke (68) and Jeff Over­ton (66) in a tie for fifth. Over­ton and Piercy had birdie chances on the 18th, nei­ther know­ing it would be enough for a play­off. Duke missed a 5-foot par putt on the 17th hole to fall out of a sixway share of the lead.

As sweet as it was for Don­ald, it was painful for Els.

The Big Easy needed to win to se­cure his spot at Au­gusta Na­tional, and he was poised to do just that with a flaw­less round un­til the end. But he missed a 4-foot birdie putt on the 16th that would have given him a two-shot lead, then fell back into a six-way tie with a tee shot that sailed well right of the par-3 17th green and left him no chance of get­ting it close to save par.

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