Commentary

All comes full circle for Luke Donald

Updated: May 28, 2012, 12:20 PM ET
By Farrell Evans | ESPN.com

Last May, Luke Donald's win at the BMW PGA Championship got him to No. 1 in the world for the first time in his career. Since then he has earned four worldwide wins and the money titles on the PGA Tour and European Tour. Lately, has been embroiled in a seesaw battle for No. 1 with Rory McIlroy.

[+] EnlargeLuke Donald
Glyn Kirk/AFP/GettyImagesLuke Donald's victory at the BMW PGA Championship on Sunday marked the first time in the Englishman's career that he successfully defended a title.

This week, Donald started No. 2 in the rankings, the same spot he held when he came to the BMW last year at the Wentworth Club, where he unseated Lee Westwood from the top of the rankings by beating his fellow countryman on the first playoff hole.

On Sunday, Donald wouldn't need a playoff to win the BMW and regain No. 1 in the world. The 34-year-old Englishman carded his third 68 of the week for a four-shot win over Paul Lawrie and Justin Rose. The BMW title was his second worldwide win of the year.

For Donald, last year's BMW was really the start of one of the most consistent runs of golf in recent history. He went into Congressional as the favorite to win his first U.S. Open, but he played mediocre and finished in a tie for 45th. He would win his next time out at the Scottish Open. But then he missed the cut at the British Open.

So it's difficult to know what good play around the majors means for Donald. Which player will show up? Will it be the guy who seems to never finish outside the top 10 or will it be the guy who disappears into the back of the pack in the most important tournaments in the world?

My guess is that he'll play better this time around in the next two majors. The role of No. 1 was a new thing to him in 2011. Now he has done that and come out of it a better player who is still improving. With his amazing short game, he is a clear favorite at Olympic, which is not a bomber's course. But time will tell if he can master the nerves and finally get it done on golf's highest stage.

Johnson's penalty nearly costs him Colonial

In the waning minutes of the Colonial, CBS Golf announcer Peter Kostis spotted two infractions in the final pairing of Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson. The first, not a rules violation, happened on the 18th tee, when the players hit out of order. The second came on the 18th green, when Johnson failed to replace his ball mark. For that one, Johnson received a two-shot penalty, but he still held on for a one-shot win over Dufner.

With the win, Johnson got his eighth career title and some valuable Ryder Cup and FedEx Cup points. But his embarrassing brain flub was a reminder of the careful attention to detail it takes in all facets of the game. Replacing your ball is one of the most routine acts on a golf course. It's a good measure of courtesy to remind your playing partners to not forget to put the ball back in its original position on the green.

Johnson's caddie, Damon Green, or Dufner could have told him to replace the ball, but they, too, probably were caught up in the moment. It's the kind of thing that probably happens more often than we know on the PGA Tour. Lots of weird stuff happens on the golf course. We just don't see most of it because there isn't a gallery or a TV announcer to catch it. Unless it's a major or your name is Tiger, Phil, Daly or Rickie Fowler, the typical tour player competes in relative peace and anonymity with only his family and friends following him on the course.

That's probably not the first time Johnson has failed to replace his ball. But it's likely to be his last time committing the rules infraction. It won't just be a force of habit. It will become a habitual concern of his and his caddie's. And we'll probably be looking closer than ever to catch that player in the act as someone who forgot to remember something he's done his whole life.

Gainey keeps gaining on 2013 tour card
For every Luke Donald or Zach Johnson, there are 20 Tommy Gaineys on the PGA Tour. For the Gaineys of the world, the PGA Tour is a road show that goes 30-odd weeks or as many weeks as it takes for one to lock up his playing privileges for the next year. In the lexicon of the game, these men are sometimes called journeymen, but more practically they are fathers and husbands trying to eke out a living. Granted, it's a living that yields lots of millionaires, but not a gig with much job security.

[+] EnlargeTommy Gainey
Scott Halleran/Getty ImagesTommy Gainey's $435,200 earned Sunday at Colonial gives him $531,987 for the year. He needs to win roughly $140,000 more this season to equal the No. 125 money winner from 2011.

In 2011, the 36-year-old Gainey had a career year, earning more than $2.1 million while claiming seven top-10s. His blue-collar background and baseball-inspired golf swing have made him an instant celebrity on tour. But if you don't play well that fame can be fleeting.

Coming into the Colonial, Gainey had eight missed cuts and two withdrawals in 17 events. At the Valero Texas Open, he shot 80-84 to miss the cut with a 20-over-par total. The former line worker at the A.O. Smith water heater company, who once boasted of making $12 per hour at the plant, had earned less than $100,000 in the season. He was well on his way to a return to Q-school in the fall.

But miraculously, his game came together this week at Colonial, where he had rounds of 66-67-73-67 to finish in solo third, which was good enough for a $435,200 payday. Now he's in a position on the money list in which he needs to make probably another $150,000 to keep his card next year. He'll play another 15 to 17 events this year, so if he performs decently, his homespun nature should grace the tour for another year.

Some of Gainey's poor play can be attributed to a nagging elbow injury, but playing with injuries is a part of the game. Now that he's healthy, maybe he can show in the remainder of the year some of the dazzling play we saw from him in 2011.

While a future on the PGA Tour is never secure for scrappy types such as Gainey, it's one of the greatest gifts of the tour that these players can have a great week that lifts their spirits and changes the entire course of their year.

McIlroy heads to Memorial after two straight weekends off

At the BMW PGA Championship, Rory McIlroy missed his second cut in a row after shooting a 7-over-par 79 in the second round at the Wentworth Club in Surrey, England. Earlier this month, the 23-year-old Ulsterman, who will try to defend his U.S. Open title next month at the Olympic Club, also went packing after two rounds at The Players Championship.

Since starting his year with five top-5s, including a win at the Honda Classic, McIlroy has had a disappointing tie for 40th at the Masters, a T-2 at the Wells Fargo Championship and the two missed cuts.

His 79 at the BMW was his worst competitive round since that infamous 80 in the final round at the 2011 Masters. McIlroy, who gave up No. 1 to Luke Donald after the Englishman's win at the BMW, is now headed to the Memorial.

"I just think I've lacked competitive rounds," McIlroy said on Friday. "I'm looking forward to getting to the states and playing four rounds. I'm still confident in my ability."

He has no reason to lack confidence in his game, but he should be concerned about missing cuts so near the U.S. Open. Last year, he came into Congressional off of a tie for fifth at the Memorial. Though his runaway win in the U.S. Open was a signal to the world that he was going to be a contender for a long time, getting to No. 1 this year has been his real coming-out party.

It's difficult to lose focus in less than six months, but McIlroy's last two showings should be a wake-up call for him that he can't take his game for granted, and that every week should be an occasion to demonstrate that he's one of the best players in the world.

Tiger Woods, the benchmark for success on the contemporary PGA Tour, has never missed two cuts in a row in his pro career. If McIlroy wants to reach that level of greatness, he had better figure out how in the world a player of his otherworldly abilities could ever shoot a 79.

Another Woods on the golf scene
Cheyenne Woods turned pro and signed with Excel Sports Management, the same agency that represents her famous uncle, Tiger Woods. The daughter of Tiger's half-brother Earl Woods Jr., Cheyenne Woods won two individual collegiate titles -- including the 2011 ACC championship -- before graduating recently from Wake Forest.

[+] EnlargeCheyenne Woods
Michael Cohen/Getty ImagesAs if trying to make her way into professional golf isn't hard enough, Cheyenne Woods has the added pressures of being Tiger Woods' niece and attempting to become the LPGA's first full-time African-American member in more than a decade.

With her good looks and famous last name, the 21-year-old Phoenix native will be an attention-grabber in a women's game desperate for stars. Cheyenne Woods has an opportunity to be a trailblazer on an LPGA Tour that hasn't had a fully exempt African-American player since LaRee Suggs was on the tour in 2001. In 1964, after she had won five Grand Slam tennis titles, Althea Gibson became the first black woman to play on the LPGA Tour.

Cheyenne Woods' success on the LPGA Tour could encourage more young black girls to take up the sport at a young age. There are already a number of black women trying to play pro golf, including Ginger Howard and Shasta Averyhardt, who was partially exempt on the LPGA Tour in 2011. None of these women have had the kind of support that Cheyenne Woods is likely to receive from sponsors, the LPGA Tour and her uncle.

Cheyenne Woods will have enough pressure to succeed without being weighed down with expectations that she will be an ambassador of diversity in the game, but her participation in the growth of initiatives to support minority women in golf could go a long way toward the sport becoming truly a melting pot.

But first she has to get her card. She'll enter Q-school this fall, and in the meantime she will try to get into LPGA events through sponsor's exemptions. In her one previous LPGA start at the 2009 Wegmans, she missed the cut.

Farrell Evans covers golf for ESPN and can be contacted at evans.espn@gmail.com.

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