Donald relishing Innisbrook return

  • Last Updated: March 13 2013, 18:22 GMT

For the third week in succession, one of Europe's Ryder Cup heroes will defend a title on the PGA Tour.

Luke Donald: Hoping to defend his title

But Luke Donald will have to buck the trend in more ways than one to retain his Tampa Bay Championship crown, with all 11 tournaments played so far in 2013 being won by American players.

World number one Rory McIlroy infamously walked off the course midway through his second round in the defence of his Honda Classic title two weeks ago, while Medinah team-mate Justin Rose was joint eighth in the WGC-Cadillac Championship at the weekend.

Donald could only finish a lowly joint 43rd in the 65-man field at Doral and has never successfully defended a title on the PGA Tour.

However, the 35-year-old will be hoping memories of last year's win at Innisbrook can kickstart his season, with the triumph in a four-man play-off taking him back to number one in the world after McIlroy's win at the Honda Classic.

"I've always enjoyed this golf course, I think it's a good golf course for me," world number three Donald told local radio station 620 WDAE.

"I'm certainly looking forward to getting back there. Winning there last year got me back to world number one and it's a great event.

"It's a shot-maker's course, you just have to look at some of the previous winners like KJ Choi and Carl Pettersson who like to shape it both ways. You have to think your way around the course and it's one of the classic courses that we play."

One man who will not be challenging for Donald's title is Open champion Ernie Els, who has been forced to withdraw with a hip problem.

Els finished 28th at Doral last week but wrote in his PGA Tour blog: "The week didn't go too great, though, mainly because my right hip was causing me problems again. It's been bugging me for a while now and then it really went into spasm on Thursday morning.

"I was on the first tee thinking 'Maybe I shouldn't be starting this round.' Anyway, I tried to play through it, but it's not feeling right. I've got to get this sorted, which is the reason I had to withdraw from this week's tournament in Tampa Bay.

"The only outing I'll have this week is travelling up to Augusta National on Tuesday to have a gentle walk around the course, but other than that I'll have to pretty much rest up for most of this week. Doctors orders, as they say."

The Copperhead course at Innisbrook, whose tough final three holes are known as the "Snake Pit" and are ranked the fourth hardest closing stretch on tour, is usually popular with the players, but has undergone a few changes.

In trying to toughen up some areas of the course it was felt the changes went too far, particularly with the front pin placement on the 18th, where Donald won the four-man play-off with a birdie.

"Donald got a little lucky on his approach," course superintendent Ryan Stewart said. "It just stopped dead. Those greens are tough enough as it is.

"There was too much movement on the greens. Trying to read putts, there was just an unbelievable amount of movement."

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