Updated: April 3, 2012, 4:53 PM ET

Despite victories, Donald often overshadowed

Harig By Bob Harig
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AUGUSTA, Ga. -- With all that was happening on the final day of the 2011 Masters -- Charl Schwartzel's victory, Tiger Woods' charge, the near misses for Aussies Adam Scott, Jason Day and Geoff Ogilvy -- it's easy to forget about Luke Donald.

He hit the flagstick with his approach to the 18th green, seeing it roll off the putting surface -- then chipped it in for a dramatic birdie. Donald celebrated with a couple of fist pumps, and the fans in the gallery caused the ground to shake.

It eventually was lost in the hysteria of Schwartzel's birdie-birdie-birdie-birdie finish and the commotion of a remarkable final round.

[+] EnlargeLuke Donald
Kevin Liles/US PresswireIs it possible for the No. 1 player in the world to be a little under the radar? Somehow, that always seems to be the case with Luke Donald, even heading into the year's first major.

And yet, isn't that sort of how it goes for Donald?

He is ranked No. 1 in the world, remember, after a remarkable 2011 season that saw him win twice apiece on the PGA and European tours, capturing both money titles.

His spot atop the PGA Tour money list was not secured until the last event, at Disney World, where he had to win. He did, holding off Webb Simpson to claim the money title.

But after an offseason -- such as it was -- in which his father died and shortly thereafter his wife, Diane, gave birth to the couple's second child, Donald's 2012 got started a bit slowly. There were lackluster finishes in Abu Dhabi and Los Angeles, followed by a first-round defeat at the WGC-Accenture Match Play.

Meanwhile, Phil Mickelson was winning at Pebble Beach and Hunter Mahan at the Match Play and Rory McIlroy at Honda -- to supplant Donald as No. 1. It wasn't until the WGC-Cadillac Championship that Donald posted a top-10 finish, and there all the news was about Tiger Woods withdrawing and another Englishman, Justin Rose, winning.

It was easy for Donald to feel overlooked.

"Absolutely," he said. "I don't pay too much attention to it, but I certainly wasn't in the media at all. I think people saw my last year, or thought that my last year was maybe a little more … not a fluke … but I don't think many people thought I could do that all over again this year. Hopefully, I can prove them wrong."

Donald simply seems to be overshadowed. McIlroy's Honda victory came with Woods shooting a final-round 62 and Donald not in the field. Two weeks later, Donald won a playoff at the Transitions Championship to reclaim the top spot in the world, setting up an even more intriguing Masters this week at Augusta National -- made even more so when Woods won last week at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

"I think golf is in a good spot right now," Donald said. "There's a lot of excitement going on. The good players are playing well, and it's nice to have a little back and forth like that."

A major championship is the next big step for Donald. He has not had a huge amount of success in them overall, but he does have two top-5s at Augusta National, including his tie for fourth a year ago. He was third in 2005.

The win at the Transitions was a big boost. It sent him into a two-week run of practice in a good frame of mind and with plenty of confidence.

"It's a funny game," he said. "It does come and go. Obviously, after the slow start, there are some doubts. They do creep [in] sometimes. You can certainly fall into the trap of looking at last year and how I played and kind of comparing that. But I knew that, if I kept working, and I saw my swing on video, it was getting better and better. And I knew that hard work would pay off.

"Obviously, that is starting to show these last couple of weeks."

The little miss

I.K. Kim's reaction after missing a short putt Sunday that would have won the Kraft Nabisco Championship said it all. She covered her mouth with her hand. She then put her hands over her head. She walked off the green, shocked. Another example of a cruel game.

Kim was unable to recover, her bogey at the final hole leading to a sudden-death playoff with Sun Young Yoo. Given Kim's state of mind, a victory at that point seemed remote, and, sure enough, Yoo won with a birdie on the first extra hole.

"It was kind of hard to focus on the playoff after what happened,'' Kim said.

Understandable.

The putt was only a foot, a mere tap-in. But somehow Kim missed it, even though she seemed to study the putt and go through her normal routine. Scott Hoch's missed putt at the 1989 Masters comes to mind, but his botched attempt came from 2 feet.

This was so close it was as much a formality as any putt could be, especially one to win the tournament.

Here's the amazing thing: Kim was putting together one of the all-time great rounds in a major championship. She had hit all 18 greens in regulation, had not made a bogey.

"Coming up to it, I tried to take time,and, you know, same routine,'' she said. "But I played straight, and actually just broke to the right, even that short putt.''

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.

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