Britain’s Luke Donald sank a six-foot birdie putt on the first extra hole on Sunday to win a four-man playoff at the USPGA Transitions Championship and reclaim the World No. 1 ranking.
Donald had surrendered the top spot to Rory McIlroy just two weeks ago, but ended the Northern Ireland prodigy’s reign by capturing the US$990,000 crown in the US$5.5 million event, the Englishman’s final tuneup for next month’s Masters.
Hoping to finally capture his elusive first major title at Augusta National next month, reigning US and European prize money champion Donald took his -tension-packed triumph in stride.
Donald, South Korean rookie Bae Sang-moon and Americans Jim Furyk and Robert Garrigus finished 72 holes deadlocked for the lead at 13-under 271 at the Innisbrook resort’s Copperhead course.
The playoff took place on the par-four 18th hole, with Donald the only player to find the dense rough off the tee. Donald blasted his approach six feet from the hole, but Garrigus put his second shot only seven feet from the cup.
After Bae and Furyk missed long birdie putts, Garrigus pushed his birdie bid just left of the cup, setting the stage for a dramatic birdie putt that brought reigning US and European PGA money champion Donald his first US playoff win.
South African star Ernie Els, needing a victory to secure a berth in next month’s Masters, led by a stroke at the 17th tee, but a bogey-bogey finish left him level fifth with Americans Jeff Overton, Scott Piercy and Ken Duke on 272.
Furyk, a co-leader after 54 holes, eagled the par-five first and answered a bogey at the second with a birdie at the par-five fifth. He birdied the par-five 11th, but took a bogey at the par-three 13th and finished on 69 to reach the playoff.
Donald made back-to-back birdies at the fifth and sixth and closed the front nine with a birdie that started a run of three birdies in a row to grab a share of the lead, then parred the last seven holes to join the playoff with a 66.
Bae, after birdies in three of the prior four holes, hit the ball into the pine trees left off the sixth tee and took a bogey to fall back, but he began the back nine with a birdie that put him in the lead pack. He shot a 68 on Sunday.
At his 72nd hole, Bae went six feet past the cup on a 30-foot birdie putt, then sank a tense par putt to join the playoff.
Els sought a triumph or strong effort to qualify for the Masters, but found only heartache with victory in his grasp.
The three-time major champion opened with a birdie and made another at the fifth, then made three birdies in a row starting at the par-three eighth to match Furyk for the lead.
Els birdied the par-four 12th to reach 14-under and had a four-foot birdie putt at the par-four 16th to boost his lead, but missed. Then he hit his tee shot into a tree at the par-three 17th and took his third birdie of the week at the hole.
At 18, Els pulled a four-foot par putt just left of the cup to doom his title quest, finishing with a 67 and a win drought of nearly two years.
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