Donald closes in on No. 1 with Heritage lead

Posted April 22, 2011, at 10:04 p.m.

HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. — Luke Donald moved a step closer to the No. 1 ranking Friday, shooting a 6-under 65 on Friday to take the lead halfway through The Heritage.

Donald is ranked third now, 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 was tied for the lead in Jakarta, where the second round was suspended by rain. 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).

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 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 doesn’t want to make too much of the rankings. They’re a snapshot of how consistently you’ve performed over a two-year period, he says. But with his Match Play win, defeating Kaymer in the final, and finishing fourth in the Masters, does Donald feel like the world’s best player?

“Not yet,” he said, smiling.

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.

Furyk opened with three straight birdies and added two more to jump into contention.

“It seems like when I play well, I play really well here,” he said. “And I think it’s a little bit of 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 rankinigs, 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.

Champions

SAVANNAH, Ga. — Tom Kite and Gil Morgan shot a 10-under 62 in better-ball play for a share of the first-round lead with Ted Schulz and Gary Hallberg in the Champions Tour’s Legends of Golf.

Kite and Morgan birdied their first five holes, while Schulz and Hallberg shot a 30 on the back nine at The Club at Savannah Harbor, an island layout in the Savannah River.

The teams of Scott Hoch and Kenny Perry, Hal Sutton and Larry Mize, David Frost and Michael Allen, and Sandy Lyle and Peter Senior opened with 63s.

Defending champions Mark O’Meara and Nick Price had a 64. Tom Lehman, a two-time winner this year, teamed with Corey Pavin to also shot a 64. John Cook, coming off his second victory of the year last week at TPC Tampa Bay, and Joey Sindelar had a 65. Cook played the final 14 holes alone after Sindelar hurt his back.

European PGA

CHENGDU, China — Wales’ Jamie Donaldson shot an 11-under 61 to take a one-stroke lead in the China Open. Donaldson had a 12-under 131 total on the Luxehills International course.

Denmark’s Jeppe Huldahl (65), France’s Gregory Havret (66), Belgium’s Nicolas Colsaerts (67), South Africa’s Keith Horne (69), Ireland’s Peter Lawrie (64), India’s Jeev Milkha Singh (66) and Northern Ireland’s Gareth Maybin were tied for second. Spain’s Sergio Garcia (67) was 10 under.

Three-time major winner Padraig Harrington (73) and defending champion Y.E. Yang (75) missed the cut in the event sanctioned by the European Tour, China Golf Association and OneAsia Tour.

Asian Tour

JAKARTA, Indonesia — English star Lee Westwood was tied for the Indonesian Masters lead when second-round play in the Asian Tour event was suspended because of thunder and lightning.

The second-ranked Westwood was 9 under overall with two holes left at Royale Jakarta Golf Club. Malaysia’s Shaaban Hussin (67) and South Korea’s Park Hyun-Bin (68) completed their rounds at 9 under.

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