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Len Ziehm On Golf

Fleetwood leads, but Donald is in position to win at Honda Classic

PALM BEACH GARDENS, FL. — Winning the Honda Classic is still a possibility for injury-plagued Luke Donald entering Sunday’s final round on PGA National’s Champion Course. Donald is tied for third, two strokes behind leader Tommy Fleetwood, through three rounds.

Donald isn’t predicting victory, but not ruling it out, either.

“With a back injury at 40 years old you can lose a bit of momentum,’’ he said. “Confidence breeds confidence, and you need to keep plugging away and getting yourself into position.’’

Donald’s definitely “in position’’ now, and a Donald victory would be a popular one in the Chicago golf community. Not only was the one-time world No. 1 a star at Northwestern, he is also a member at Conway Farms and helped that Lake Forest club land a coveted spot on the PGA Tour calendar.

Conway hosted the BMW Championships of 2013, 2015 and 2017 thanks in part to Donald’s influence. He also remained an active booster of the Northwestern golf program, The First Tee of Greater Chicago, the Ronald McDonald House of Chicago and the Western Golf Association’ Evans Scholars Program long after his college days and Chicago area residences were over.

Now, though, he’d like to get back on the win trail after a two-year battle with back problems. Donald won the last of his five tournaments on the PGA Tour in 2012, at the Transitions (now Valspar) Championship in Florida. He also had wins in the BMW PGA Championship on the European Tour and the Dunlop Phoenix tournament in Japan that year.

The back problems, however, eventually put Donald on the sidelines. In the two years since then he has appeared in just 21 tournaments and never contended for a title until this week, at an event just 10 miles from his long-time Florida home in Jupiter.

Though Donald won the Honda tourney in 2006, he needed an exemption off his spot on the PGA Tour’s career money list to get into this week’s field. He jumped into contention on Friday, shooting a 4-under-par 66 – the low round of the tournament — to move into a tie for second place behind Brendan Steele. Steele’s caddie just happens to be Donald’s brother and former bag-toter Christian.

“Chris is staying with us this week, so we’re one big happy family,’’ said Donald. “He’ll be in the final group (in the final round). I’m happy for Chris, but I’m chasing Brendan.’’

Steele, one of the growing number of PGA Tour players representing Chicago-based club manufacturer Wilson, is alone in second place, one shot behind Fleetwood. They’ll play together in the last twosome on Sunday.

Donald is tied for third with Lee Westwood as golfers from England are dominating the first of the four straight tournaments comprising the PGA’s annual Florida Swing. Donald and Westwood will be paired for the second straight day in the final round.

Donald, Fleetwood and Westwood all grew up in England. Fleetwood is bidding for his first win on the PGA circuit and Westwood, like Donald, is a former No. 1-ranked player. Donald was golf’s No. 1 player for 56 weeks in 2011 and 2012.

Steele and Donald were tied for the lead after Saturday’s front nine. Then Donald made bogeys at Nos. 11 and 12 as Fleetwood was charging playing in front of him. A birdie to finish, however, left Donald in good spirits entering Sunday’s final round.

“This is a tough course to go low on,’’ he said. “You have to stay patient. I had a round that could have gotten away, but I still have a good chance tomorrow. I feel I’m right where I want to be.’’

It’ll be a tougher road for the other Chicago player in the field. Wheaton’s Kevin Streelman shot 72 on Saturday and goes into the final 18 in a tie for 23rd place.