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Under pressure

Like David Toms in 2001, Luke Donald is a short hitter who's never won a major and is better with a wedge and putter in his hand. The difference, says Brian Wacker, is the expectations hanging over the No. 1-ranked Donald.

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Luke Donald knows that he's got to focus on what he can control and not try too hard to win his elusive first major title. (Getty Images)

By Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM

JOHNS CREEK, Ga. -- The last time the PGA Championship was played at Atlanta Athletic Club, the winner was a short-hitting player who had never won a major and was better with a wedge and putter in his hand.

That also just happens to describe the current No. 1 player in the world, who didn’t even play his first tournament as a professional until the week after the PGA Championship that year.

A lot has changed since then, of course -- Atlanta Athletic Club is 250 yards longer, for one -- and unlike David Toms a decade ago, Luke Donald arrives at the year’s final major as one of the favorites.

In 13 starts on the PGA TOUR, Donald has a win and eight other top-10s, including a runner-up at last week’s World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational, ties for fourth at both the Masters and THE PLAYERS Championship, and a tie for seventh at the Memorial tournament presented by Nationwide Insurance.

Last year, he won more money around the world than anyone. This year, Donald, who is third in the FedExCup standings, has a shot at doing that again.

But if Donald is going to capture that elusive first major -- he has five career top-10s in majors, including a tie for third at the 2006 PGA Championship at Medinah, where he shared the lead with Tiger Woods entering the final round -- he’s going to have to figure out how to handle the pressure that goes with trying to win one of golf’s biggest events.

“Majors in this day and age are made out to be the biggest deal,” Donald said. “People put a lot of pressure on the guys who haven't won, like myself and Lee (Westwood) and Adam (Scott) and whoever else it might be.

“Sometimes you can go to these events and just try too hard.”

That’s what happened last week at Firestone, where Donald took 31 and 30 putts each of the first two days.

In the third round, he let it go, thought less while he was over the ball and took 26 putts on his way to a 64 and ultimately a runner-up finish.

When it’s come to majors, Donald has sometimes had a difficult time doing that, however. The Masters, for example, was the only major he was a factor in this year as he tied for 45that the U.S. Open and missed the cut at the Open Championship.

“There's a little added tension, a little bit more anxiety to try and perform well,” Donald said. “You've got to somehow focus on what you can control and almost seeing it as just another event.”

That task is only made more difficult by the fact that Atlanta Athletic Club has three par 4s of 475 yards or longer and a par 3 that measures 260 yards -- “I’m never a big fan of long par 3s,” Donald said.

What Donald is a fan of is achieving his goals, something he keeps track of in a black binder that he calls his performance diary. In it are specific goals, thoughts, observations and other nuggets.

It is, in essence, a neatly kept blueprint to Donald’s world inside the ropes. It’s introspective and understated, just like its author, who also might be the most under-the-radar No. 1 player ever.

For as good as Donald has played this year, he’s grabbed fewer headlines than Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and others.

“Some personalities attract more attention and media,” Donald said. “I'm not one of those. And that's just the way it's going to be.”

Unless, of course, he wins a major championship.