PALM HARBOR — Luke Donald lost his No. 1 world ranking to Rory McIlroy in the first week of March. After a wild final round at the Transitions Championship, which included the first playoff in its 12-year history, Donald returned to the top spot.
He shot bogey-free 5-under 66 on Innisbrook's Copperhead Course on Sunday for a 72-hole total of 13-under 271. Then he waited as others failed to make birdies or bogeyed their way out of contention.
In the playoff with Jim Furyk, Robert Garrigus and Sang-Moon Bae, only Donald birdied the par-4 18th hole. It was Donald's first title of 2012, and he earned $990,000. Last season, he won twice on the PGA Tour and twice on the European Tour.
"My focus … was to try to win, and it's my focus every week," Donald said. "I wasn't really thinking about the world rankings."
Like several others, Donald had a chance to win in regulation with a birdie on the 18th hole. But he settled for par, which tied Garrigus for the lead. Both had to wait to see if anybody in the final four groups could get to 14 under.
First came Ernie Els, who followed his bogey on the 17th hole with a bogey on the 18th by missing a 4-foot putt. Then came Ken Duke, who had to birdie 18 to get to 13 under. His chip fell short.
Both Bae (68) and Furyk (69) had birdie chances to win the tournament but missed. That set up the tour's first four-man playoff since 2007.
Ironically, the only player to miss the 18th fairway was Donald. But he dropped his second shot from 159 yards to about 7 feet, closest to the pin. Furyk, Bae and Garrigus missed their third shots before Donald drained his for the championship.
"I didn't watch any of the other guys (putt)," Donald said. "I looked at the putt and knew it was pretty much left edge, and I stuck with that. When (Garrigus) missed, I knew I had a golden opportunity. I thought to myself, 'You've been ranked No. 1 in putting the last three years. Just hit it in.' "
Garrigus had the best chance in the playoff after he bombed his tee shot and hit a wedge to 8 feet. But his putt missed left.
"I had a great day," said Garrigus, who began the day five off the lead then shot 64. "If you would have told me I'd be in a playoff when I woke up, I would have told you you were crazy. I had a lot of fun. I hit three perfect shots in the playoff, but it just didn't go in the hole."
Furyk, the third-round co-leader, looked like he was in for a good day after he eagled the par-5 first hole from the sand to go to 13 under. But he leveled off and did not make a big move. He got to 14 under with a birdie at No. 11, but a three-putt bogey at No. 13 brought him back to the pack.
"It's disappointing to get this close," Furyk said. "I had every opportunity like everyone else to get to 14 under, and I didn't do it. I'm disappointed in myself for that, but I do take a lot of confidence from this."
Donald will take the next two weeks off before playing in the Masters. His steady play Sunday is sure to give him confidence. He didn't pick up his first birdie until the par-5 fifth hole. After another birdie on the sixth, Donald birdied the ninth, 10th and 11th holes to get to 13 under. He ended his round with seven pars before the playoff birdie.
Donald held the No. 1 world ranking for almost nine months. He said he doesn't look at the rankings much but is using it as motivation.
"I think people saw what I did last year and maybe didn't think I could do it again this year," Donald said. "Hopefully, I can prove them wrong."
Shot of the day
Luke Donald was the only player in the rough on the par-4 18th hole during the four-man playoff. But he hit a 7-iron from 159 yards to about 7 feet, closer than the other three. He then made the birdie putt to win the tournament.