Luke Donald poised to reach new heights

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JACKSONVILLE, FLA. (AP) - Luke Donald looks like a different player these days.

He even acts like a different player.

Consider his final hole at the Masters, where he was desperate to make birdie to keep alive his slim hopes.

Keeping his weight on the back leg to keep from falling into a fairway bunker, Donald hit a shot so perfect that it one-hopped high against the pin and ricocheted off the front of the green. Then came an impeccable chip _ he’s been hitting a lot of those lately _ that dropped for birdie, and the 33-year-old Englishman unleashed emotions that seem to have been bottled up his whole career.

He raised both arms, pumped them twice, roared, slammed his right fist and ripped off his visor to salute the gallery.

“It was revenge for my second shot,” Donald said Monday. “I got carried away. It was a fun moment.”

Even with the birdie, Donald eventually wound up four shots behind Charl Schwartzel in a tie for fourth with Tiger Woods and Geoff Ogilvy, who played in front of him. Even so, it was another performance that explains why Donald has risen to a career-high No. 3 in the world, and why he can go even higher when he returns this week at Hilton Head.

Donald still doesn’t win as often as he would like _ six official victories, only two in the last five years _ but winning starts with giving himself chances, and he has done that as well as anyone lately.

Dating to the Tour Championship, where he was runner-up to Jim Furyk by one shot, Donald has finished out of the top 10 only one time in his last nine starts. The exception was a missed cut at Riviera, where he returned after a three-month break. A week later, Donald was so dominant at the Match Play Championship that he became the first player to never trail in any of his six matches.

So what has changed?

Pat Goss, his golf coach at Northwestern who still works with him, used to see two players _ a world-beater every two years at the Ryder Cup (Donald has an 8-2-1 record), and a player burdened by expectations just about everywhere else, particularly the majors.

Goss noticed something different at Augusta.

“The Masters was the first time I saw the Ryder Cup Luke,” Goss said. “He looked like a fighter, ready to go nose-to-nose. He played fearlessly. Every time he made a mistake, he really fought back.”

Donald attributes the difference to the people around him.

The toughest change was deciding toward the end of 2009 to no longer have his brother, Christian, as his caddie. He now has Jon McLaren, whom Donald says “keeps me more lighthearted.” He continues to lean on Goss as a coach, mentor and friend. The other addition was Dave Alred, a performance guru best known in rugby circles as a kicking coach for the likes of Jonny Wilkinson.

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