PALM HARBOR, Fla. — One great round. One solid swing out of the rough. One clutch birdie putt.
That’s what Luke Donald needed to win the Transitions Championship in a playoff and get back to No. 1 in the world.
Donald was starting to feel overlooked in the two weeks since Rory McIlroy replaced him atop the world ranking, and he even allowed a few doubts about his game to creep into his head.
That changed on a steamy Sunday at Innisbrook, where Donald closed with 5-under-par 66 and won a four-man playoff on the first extra hole.
He hit a 7-iron out of the rough to 6 feet below the cup for birdie to beat Jim Furyk, Robert Garrigus and Bae Sang-Moon.
“I think people ... thought that my last year was maybe a little bit more of a – not a fluke, but I don’t think many people thought I could do that all over again this year,” Donald said. “Hopefully, I can prove them wrong.”
With his fifth win in his past 31 starts around the world, Donald went back to No. 1 and will stay there until he gets to Augusta National and tries to capture his first major championship.
McIlroy wasted no time sending his congratulations through Twitter.
“Well I enjoyed it while it lasted! Congrats (at)LukeDonald! Impressive performance!” he tweeted.
“I’m sure he got a taste of the view and I’m sure he’ll want more of it. He’s a great player,” Donald said. “I think golf is in a good spot right now. There’s a lot of excitement going on.”
The only fluke was how Donald returned to No. 1 – by winning a playoff, just like he did at Wentworth last May when he first rose to the top of the world ranking.
With so many possibilities in this wild final round, only the best golf was going to get rewarded.
Garrigus birdied the last two holes for 64 and was the first to finish on 13-under 271, which turned out to be enough for the playoff.
Bae, the South Korean PGA Tour rookie with the fluid swing, made a 6-foot par putt on the final hole for 68. Furyk had 69.
Missing from the group was Ernie Els, whose bogey-bogey finish cost him a chance to win – and maybe a trip to the Masters Tournament.
The Big Easy could have secured a Masters invitation by winning. Because he tied for fifth, he only moved to No. 62 in the world, and only the top 50 after this week’s event at Bay Hill make the Masters.
Bay Hill does not have as strong of a field, meaning Els might have to win next week or at the Houston Open to get back to Augusta National.
“It’s going to be tough,” he said.