HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. - Luke Donald said he has proven he's among the world's best, even if he won't have the No. 1 ranking to prove it.
Donald finished off a disappointing week at the RBC Heritage with an even-par 71 on Sunday. Donald needed to finish among the top eight at Harbour Town Golf Links to keep the top spot. Instead, he was 16 shots off the lead and will surrender No. 1 to Rory McIlroy when the new world rankings are released Monday.
“Is it a concern? No,” Donald said. “Obviously, I'd have liked to have played a bit more consistently this year. I built it up nicely last year through tournaments and winning a bunch. As a result, there's a little bit of fluctuation in the world rankings now.”
Largely between Donald and McIlroy.
Donald was ranked No. 1 for 40 weeks, a run that ended following McIlroy's win at the Honda Classic last month. Donald needed just two weeks to reclaim the spot with his victory at the Transitions Championship.
The 22-year-old McIlroy, like most of golf's best, took the week off after the Masters. McIlroy spent part of the week in Copenhagen visiting girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki, according to the tennis star's tweets.
McIlroy is not expected to play again until the Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte, N.C., in three weeks.
Donald seemed like a sure bet to contend the way he's played at Harbour Town. He was second to winner Brian Gay in 2009, was third a year later when he came three shots out of a playoff between 2010 champion Jim Furyk and Brian Davis, then lost a playoff of his own in 2011 to Brandt Snedeker.
But the Englishman opened with a 75 on Thursday and never made a move after that with rounds of 69, 71 and 71 to finish at 2-over 286, which matched his highest total in seven appearances at the RBC Heritage. He tied for 37th, six shots out of eighth and 16 shots behind tournament winner Carl Pettersson.
Donald was cheered on by large galleries the previous three years, but was met with polite applause as he wrapped up his tournament about 30 minutes for the final pairing of Pettersson and Colt Knost began their rounds.
Donald played like a champion until the end, getting up and down from a bunker just behind Harbour Town's signature 18th hole. Still, it wasn't what Donald expected when he teed it up this week.
Donald was in danger of missing the cut here until battling back with par saves on the course's three finishing holes to make it in by a shot. A Saturday charge never materialized and Donald was on his way home hours before the trophy ceremony.
“It's a strange feeling when you get up early and don't have a chance to win,” he said. “It's hard to get motivated on every round and every shot. You never know when you're going to find something that might just click and make a difference.”
Donald was chasing No. 1 here last year and held a final-round lead until Snedeker rallied and won on the third playoff hole. Donald took over the top spot a month later from countryman Lee Westwood and held it for 40 week, the longest of anyone expect for Tiger Woods in the last 15 years. This will be the 51st time the No. 1 ranking has changed hands.
The record for longest run at No. 1 belongs to Woods with 281 weeks.
Donald acknowledged reaching No. 1 the first time was a satisfying career achievement, as was holding it for so long a period. “It's a lot more the focus the first time around,” he said. “Now my focus is on winning tournaments.”
Donald will take next week off and then return to action in the Zurich Classic of New Orleans starting April 26.
History of No. 1 World Ranking since Tiger Woods' record run ended:
April 15, 2012 — Rory McIlroy
March 18, 2012 — Luke Donald (4 weeks)
March 4, 2012 — Rory McIlroy (2 weeks)
May 29, 2011 — Luke Donald (40 weeks)
April 24, 2011 — Lee Westwood (5 weeks)
Feb. 27, 2011 — Martin Kaymer (8 weeks)
Oct. 31, 2010 — Lee Westwood (17 weeks)
June 12, 2005 — Tiger Woods (281 weeks)