Luke Donald closes in on No. 1 with Heritage lead
HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. – Luke Donald's not ready to call himself the world's best player.
"Not yet," he said with a grin Friday.
Two more rounds like he's had at The Heritage and there will be no doubt about Donald's status.
The 33-year-old English star shot a 6-under 65 on Friday to take the lead halfway through the PGA Tour event. Donald is ranked third in the world behind No. 1 Martin Kaymer and No. 2 Lee Westwood. However, Donald would jump to the top with a win at Harbour Town, no matter how Westwood fares this weekend at the Indonesian Masters.
Westwood surged to a five-stroke lead Saturday after the third round at the Indonesian Masters. Kaymer isn't playing this week.
The 33-year-old Donald hasn't let talk of No. 1 distract him through two rounds, finishing at 10-under 132 for a one-shot edge over first-round leader Garrett Willis (69).
"It's nice to play well and have chances to win," Donald said. "But winning is a much bigger deal."
Masters runner-up Jason Day (65), defending champion Jim Furyk (66), Camilo Villegas (68) and Chad Campbell (69) were 8 under. Ben Crane (66) and Ian Poulter (66) were three strokes behind Donald.
Donald was the highest ranked of seven players in the world's top 20 competing at what could be the last Heritage. The PGA Tour fixture is seeking a title sponsor, something tour and event officials say is essential to maintaining its place on the schedule for 2012.
Donald could give the Heritage the boost it needs if he can claim No. 1.
"I guess it's always in the back of your mind," the Englishman said. "It's hard to get away from knowing that with Twitter and Facebook and the media and everything, you obviously know what's at stake."
Donald, who won the Match Play Championship in February, thinks he can focus on what got him to this point — steady, unflappable golf.
"I can control where I hit the golf ball, and hopefully, I'll give myself a good shot at it come Sunday," he said.
Donald has gradually found his game the past few seasons on Pete Dye's treacherous layout. Donald finished second two years ago, then was third behind Furyk in 2010.
Donald began the round three shots behind Willis and quickly moved in front with five birdies on the front nine. After a bogey on the 10th hole, Donald moved in front again a hole later with a 20-foot birdie putt from the fringe. An 8-footer on the par-5 15th brought his final birdie and he parred in to break 70 for the eighth time in his last nine rounds in the event.
"The last couple of years, I've come here playing reasonably well, where I've had control of the golf ball, which is very key at this place," Donald said.
Donald has several capable players close on his tail. Willis closed with a birdie to draw within a stroke. Furyk continued his strong play at Harbour Town — he's shot in the 60s 10 of his last 12 rounds — with a bogey-free outing. And the talented Villegas is having his best tournament of the year after missing five of his first eight cuts.
Furyk might be Donald's biggest weekend challenge. Besides winning three times last year, Furyk earned the FedEx Cup $10 million bonus. He's had two seconds and a fourth at Harbour Town to go along with his Heritage win and is feeling as good as he did a year ago when he slipped on the champion's plaid coat.
"It seems like when I play well, I play really well here," he said. "And I think it's a little bit of a testament to the golf course. I really like it here."
U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell, ranked fifth in the world, was five shots behind after a 69. No. 10 Matt Kuchar shot a 72 to fall into a tie for 43rd, eight shots in back of Donald.
Ernie Els, 15th in the rankings, missed the cut with rounds of 75 and 78, his worst performance in 12 career trips to the Heritage. Els switched to a belly putter this week and struggled on the greens with 59 putts. He also failed to make a birdie Friday.