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Lee Westwood is the only other player to be No. 1 without ever having won a major. But he reached No. 4 in the world early in his career, he won the Order of Merit in Europe at age 27 and was seen as a potential threat for years to come until he was derailed by a slump.

That was never the case with Donald. For most of his career, he was regarded as a mild-mannered Englishman who won an NCAA title at Northwestern and majored in art.

This, however, is not the same Luke Donald.

“He was the same player for 10 years,” Geoff Ogilvy said. “He made a slight improvement, as people do when they get older. But two years ago, he obviously made a conscious decision that, `I’m going to do things differently.’ Whatever it was, it was a big difference. Because he’s clearly the best player.”

The 34-year-old Donald began changing after he had to miss the second half of 2008 with a wrist injury, brought on by trying to hit the ball farther. In one of the tougher decisions, he decided to replace his brother as his caddie with John McLaren. Even more pivotal was bringing in Dave Alred, a performance guru from Britain who is famous for working with rugby players such as Jonny Wilkinson.

Wilkinson wanted Donald to be a killer on the golf course.

“I suppose I lacked a little ruthlessness,” Donald said. “That was my nature, coming from England. Dave wants me to be the hunter, not the fisherman. He talks about how a fisherman throws it out there and hopes to get a fish. A hunter goes out there and he’s going to go straight between your eyes. That’s the vibe and feel Dave is after.

“He wants me to be that assassin,” Donald said, pausing to smile. “And I’m trying hard for him.”

McLaren recalls the time years ago, before he went to work as his caddie, when he was in Chicago and stayed at Donald’s apartment. He heard him talk about his aspirations, perhaps one day being No. 1 in the world.

“I remember thinking it was ambitious, to say the least,” McLaren said. “The game we know that Tiger Woods created, you wouldn’t think someone of Luke’s athletic proportions could be No. 1. We’re so used to the very best in any sport being big characters, big athletes. I always thought he’d be up against that.”

But when he first caddied for Donald in 2010, he noticed a different player, a different person.

“I suppose the biggest shock for me was how tough he is,” McLaren said. “He can be quite cutting at times. When we first started, I thought, `Hmm, you’ve got a streak in you I didn’t know you had.’ I always thought he was very unassuming. Luke is fiercely competitive. He hides it well by being very English. He’s well educated, well brought up. The fire burns, he just doesn’t let anyone know it.”

McLaren got another glimpse of that when McIlroy went to No. 1 at the Honda Classic, and Donald became yesterday’s news. It was natural for attention to shift to McIlroy, especially after his record-setting win at the U.S. Open the previous summer at Congressional. Then, McIlroy came out of nowhere with a 65-67 weekend at Doral and nearly won a World Golf Championship. This was McIlroy’s time.

The next week, Donald shot 66 at Innisbrook and hit a clutch shot out of the rough to win a playoff.

He was right back at No. 1.

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