Donald makes his 2012 PGA Tour debut Thursday

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LOS ANGELES — Luke Donald was on the practice range at Riviera before dawn Wednesday, so dark that only temporary floodlights allowed him to see where the ball was going.

England's Luke Donald, the world's top-ranked player, will make his 2012 PGA Tour debut Thursday in the Northern Trust Open. He's paired with Adam Scott and Nick Watney.  FILE/ASSOCIATED PRESS
FILE/ASSOCIATED PRESS
England's Luke Donald, the world's top-ranked player, will make his 2012 PGA Tour debut Thursday in the Northern Trust Open. He's paired with Adam Scott and Nick Watney.

It was a snapshot of the perks that come with being No. 1 in the world, and what got him there.

The best player gets his choice of tee times for the pro-am for this week’s Northern Trust Open, and the early spots go first. Along with being No. 1 in the world, Donald sits atop both the PGA Tour and European Tour money lists, the first player ever to lead the two biggest tours.

As for the work ethic? Getting to the top wasn’t an accident.

“I think the best part of being No. 1 is knowing that my best golf is good enough to get me to that No. 1 spot, just from a confidence and mental standpoint,” Donald said. “That’s gratifying to know that the hard work is paying off.”

The Masters Tournament is less than two months away, and Donald is building toward that. He’ll play the next two weeks, including his first title defense at the Match Play Championship, then play consecutive weeks in Florida at Doral and Tampa.

Donald is still searching for a major championship breakthrough.

‘’I feel like my game is good enough right now to win majors,” Donald said. “I don’t feel like there’s a huge weakness. If I can win four times in a year, I should be able to win a major.

“There are still things I can improve on to give myself better opportunities.”

The hardest part for Donald might be the encore this year.

Donald is coming off a year he won’t ever forget, and it all began at Riviera with a round he would like to erase from his memory. In his first event, he shot 79 in the second round to miss the cut.

Toward the end of his season, he had won a career-best four times, including the most exciting finish this side of a major when he birdied six consecutive holes to start the back nine at Disney and closed with 64 for a two-shot victory. It gave him the double money title, and was enough to make him a landslide winner of PGA Tour Player of the Year.

Donald opened this season in Abu Dhabi with a tie for 48th, the first time since August that he did not finish among the top 12. That’s still better than missing the cut, as he did at the Northern Trust Open a year ago.

Riviera is where Donald comes full circle.

He leads a field that features two-time winner Phil Mickelson, coming off his six-shot comeback to win last week at Pebble Beach and a pair of Aussies in Jason Day and Adam Scott, who are playing on the PGA Tour for the first time this year.

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