British star Donald in shape to make some history at Players Championship
21:30 GMT, 9 May 2012
How's this for a snapshot image of the changing face of golf
Rory McIlroy is the 10-1 favourite for the Players Championship starting on Thursday, followed by Luke Donald and Lee Westwood at 14-1, with Phil Mickelson at 20-1 and Tiger Woods offered at – wait for it – 25-1.
The bookmakers are clearly placing their faith in the UK trio to live up to their positions at the top of the world rankings.
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LEADING TEE TIMES
1.29pm: L Oosthuizen (SA), J Day (A), I Poulter (Eng). 6.29pm: J Rose (Eng), M Kaymer (G), A Scott (A).
6.39pm: L Donald (Eng), B Haas (US), L Westwood (Eng).
6.49pm: R McIlroy (NI), P Mickelson (US), S Stricker (US).
10th tee – 1.39pm: R Fowler, H Mahan, T Woods (all US).
For McIlroy, this will be a wonderful test of his new-found resolve to curb his natural instincts when the occasion demands, and it will be fascinating to see how he fares.
For the two Englishmen, there are no such caveats. As Donald's caddie, John McLaren, says: 'I can't think of another venue we play all year that is more suited to Luke's strategic type of game.'
Westwood's coach, Pete Cowen, was equally bullish. 'He's never practised or played better than in the build-up to this event,' he said, before adding, smiling: 'He knows it too.'
There was certainly no mistaking the confident air Westwood exuded yesterday as he seeks to maintain the momentum stemming from his final-round 66 that gave him a share of fifth place in the Wells Fargo Championship last Sunday.
In the swing of things: McIlroy (right) will tee off as the world No 1
Westwood was not here last year owing to some scheduling issues but knew when it was on that he had made a mistake.
'Watching it on television I missed not being here,' said the 39-year-old, who finished tied fourth in 2010.
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'At the time I thought it was the right thing to do and I stand by that, but it is an event I really enjoy on a course that fits my eye, so it's great to be back, and particularly now I'm a member of this tour.'
Over the past 12 weeks the world No 1 ranking has changed hands no fewer than five times between Donald and present incumbent McIlroy, partly owing to the fact they've been playing in different tournaments since the Masters.
'That will all change over the next few weeks and I think that's going to make the back and forth between the two of us even more exciting,' said Donald.
McLaren likened it to a tennis match and mischievously suggested Donald send a tweet to McIlroy's racket-wielding girlfriend, Caroline Wozniacki, to see what she thought.
'I'd say going into this event it's 40-30 on Rory's serve,' he said.
In the build-up, Donald has been working diligently on his fabled short game that unusually failed him at Augusta.
'I think one of the reasons why this course suits me is that the short game is all-important round here,' he said.
'I left Augusta very disappointed with that area of my game, it wasn't sharp enough and let me down. But I feel like I'm back on track.'
Everything looks in place, therefore, at an event that will never carry the cache of a major championship but, for the majority of players like Donald and Westwood plus fellow Englishmen Ian Poulter and Justin Rose, would represent the biggest victory of their careers.
Adding to the spice are a number of tasty pairings, with Woods teeing off alongside Rickie Fowler this morning, Mickelson partnering McIlroy, while Donald and Westwood will stroll the fairways together this afternoon.
It is 44 years since Tony Jacklin achieved a small piece of golfing history in this part of the world when he won the Jacksonville Open, the first victory by a European on the US Tour since the 1920s.
Could this week see the first English win in the 38-year history of the Players