Donald tees off in New Orleans with one eye on another shot at top spot

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For the second straight week, Luke Donald has a chance to go to No. 1 in the world ranking with a victory.
By
PA Sport

Series:

World No. 3 Luke Donald will headline the Zurich Classic, which gets under way on Thursday.

The Englishman and world No. 5 Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland lead the field competing at the 7,341-yard, par-72 TPC Louisiana course, while other big names include world No. 9 Steve Stricker and rising star Rickie Fowler.

Donald came close to claiming the world's top ranking on Sunday, but was beaten in a playoff for the Heritage title by Brandt Snedeker. That title instead fell back to Lee Westwood, with Martin Kaymer slipping to No. 2.

While he let his chance slip in South Carolina, the 33-year-old Donald believes he will have opportunities to sit atop the rankings this season and in the future.

"It would be something great to talk to the grandkids in 30 years' time and say that you were the best in the world, but I still have a lot of chances to do that," he said after the playoff defeat.

His improvement this season has been unquestionable, with Donald gaining significantly more rankings points compared to last season than any other top-10 player [Donald has earned 151.48 points, with Kaymer the next best with 118.8].

Gusty conditions are expected in Louisiana throughout the weekend, which looks set to preserve 2010 champion Jason Bohn's course-record of 18-under-par 270.

The Zurich Classic is the penultimate lead-up tournament ahead of the Players Championship at the famed TPC Sawgrass. And with in-form Phil Mickelson skipping the event, his absence opens up the chance for someone to claim a confidence-boosting trophy in the build-up to the Players.

Previous winners that will be on course in 2011 include David Toms (2001 winner), K.J. Choi (2002), Vijay Singh (2004) and Nick Watney (2007). Interestingly, Toms and Singh both won the PGA Championship in the same year they won the Zurich Classic.

Choi is grouped with Donald and McDowell for the opening two rounds, and the trio should all threaten in New Orleans.

Snedeker, meanwhile, will aim to continue where he left off, after claiming his second PGA Tour title -- his first in nearly four years -- on Sunday.

"I'm looking forward to this week. I've never understood a lot of guys taking weeks off after they win,” he said. “I've never really understood that. They say they're tired. Well, you also just played the best golf of your career and won last week -- why don't you keep going?

"We tend to play on runs. I'm not naive enough to realize most golfers make their year in about six or eight weeks out of 30 tournaments,” he added. “Hopefully I get a six-week run here that's really special and I'm looking forward to doing it."

Snedeker posted a 7-under-par 64 in his final round in South Carolina before securing victory on the third playoff hole against Donald -- something that will give him great confidence for the next four days in Louisiana.

"I've been playing well, but until you actually put it into practice and do it in a pressure situation you don't know how your game's going to hold up," he added. "To go out in a playoff and do it spoke a lot to how mentally tough I was and how ready I was for that situation. That's exciting for me and gives me a lot of confidence, knowing I didn't play perfect golf for 72 holes yet I was still able to get out and play great golf on the last day."