Donald falls just a birdie from top

Published March 29, 2005

PONTE VEDRA BEACH - Luke Donald was bidding to become the first European winner of the Players Championship since 1987, and gave himself a chance all the way until his birdie putt at the 18th hole slid past the cup.

Donald, who is from England but lives in Chicago, held the third-round lead but shot 40 on the front nine and finished with 76. He tied for second to earn $597,333.

"If someone offered me tied second at the end of the week I'd say yes, especially with my track record here," said Donald, who won the 2002 Southern Farm Bureau Classic and has two victories on the European PGA Tour. "I haven't played well here. But it's disappointing I didn't win. I'm proud of myself that I was able to finish as strong as I did, and at least give myself a chance."

Donald played in the last group and had a chance to tie winner Fred Funk . With 188 yards to the pin at the par-4 18th, he hit a 4-iron that landed pin high but slid just over the green. From there, his putt for birdie - which would have been the only one of the round - just slid past the cup.

MASTERS PREP: Phil Mickelson was concerned about the Monday finish cutting into his preparation for next week's Masters. Mickelson had planned to go to Augusta National on Monday and today before playing in this week's BellSotuth Classic outside Atlanta.

Mickelson was in contention until a third-round 77, including a back-nine 42, knocked him out. He hit two balls in the water on the 17th hole during the third round.

RARE TERRITORY: Tiger Woods ' 75-75 finish left him in a tie for 53rd, his second-worst effort on the PGA Tour since he missed his last cut in 1998. Woods tied for 56th at the 1999 Bay Hill Invitational. His worst finish in a four-round tournament before that was a tie for 67th at the 1997 Memorial.

"I'm going to forget about it and get ready for (today)," said Woods, who is playing in a made-for-TV event, the Tavistock Cup, at his home course, Isleworth. "I'm taking a break to shut it down for a couple days to regroup and get ready for Augusta."

FROM FIRST TO ALMOST WORST: Steve Jones opened the tournament with 64 to take the lead. He shot 84 during the fourth round and could do nothing but laugh about it.

"I shot 84 and I was 1 over par for the last nine holes," said Jones, who started on the back nine and shot 47.

Jones missed all last year with an elbow injury and was the surprise leader Thursday. He still was tied for the lead at 10 under par when the second round was halted Saturday. When he returned Sunday morning, everything was different.

"It was really bizarre," Jones said. "I felt very good until Sunday morning. My game felt good. All of a sudden, it was like a train wreck happened. I lost my timing. I'm not in good enough shape yet to finish strong in a tournament like this."

AROUND THE TPC: The third round ended at 12:25 Monday and players were not re-paired before the fourth round. The last time a third round carried over into Monday was the 2004 Houston Open's final round. ... Joe Ogilvie earned a Masters invitation by being among the top-10 money winners through the Players Championship. Ogilvie is ninth on the list. Tom Lehman earned an invitation by being 10th on the money list and among the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Tim Clark , Craig Parry and Graeme McDowell also will be invited based on their top-50 rankings.