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Donald eyeing No. 1 spot at Wentworth again

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VIRGINIA WATER, England (AP) -A year after winning the BMW PGA Championship to become the world's top-ranked golfer for the first time, Luke Donald is back at Wentworth looking to successfully defend the title and return to the top of the pile.

In 2011, it was English compatriot Lee Westwood who Donald dislodged to take the No. 1 spot after winning a playoff. This time he has another Ryder Cup colleague in his sights: U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy.

"I think any time you're coming back to a place with such good memories, you feel good about it," Donald said on Wednesday. "I'm excited to be here and glad to have the chance to go back to No. 1."

McIlroy, Donald and No. 3-ranked Westwood are the star attractions at the ?4.5 million event, the "major" of the European Tour on an Ernie Els-redesigned West Course that can severely penalize the most minor of errors.

Retief Goosen and Ian Poulter have had particularly strong opinions in recent years on the tough nature of the course as has three-time major winner Padraig Harrington, who disliked the Wentworth putting surfaces so much that he has stayed away from the event some seasons.

Els toughened up the course two years ago but changes have been made since last year's tournament, with No. 12 reverting to one of three par 5s on the back nine and the fringe rough around the final green making it less likely that balls will spin into the water.

"Hopefully we'll have more smiling faces from the players this year," Els said. "You make changes on a great course like the West Course, people are going to not like it.

"That's part of what we do as designers, but we've passed that bridge."

The halfway cut was 6-over par last year, which McIlroy only just made weeks before he grabbed his first major win at Congressional. Only 12 players finished better than level par but scoring is expected to be higher 12 months on.

Donald is one of the few players to have mastered the venue of late, having finished second in 2010 and going one better 12 months later after Westwood - then the top-ranked player - found that water hazard at the famous 18th on the first playoff hole.

Donald lost his No. 1 ranking to McIlroy in March after 40 weeks at the top, and was supplanted for good since April. He has one win to his name in 2012, the Transitions Championship.

Donald doesn't have to win at Wentworth to return to No. 1. If he finishes second, McIlroy would have to win to stay top and if McIlroy misses the cut, Donald can go above him by finishing eighth or better.

"I like a challenge, I like to push myself," Donald said. "Whenever I've had opportunities in the last couple of years, I've been able to come through. It's making me a more confident player."

The flagship tournament will also have a massive bearing on Europe's Ryder Cup standings, four months ahead of the match at Medinah near Chicago.

Given the prize money and ranking points on offer, a successful week for a player in and around the top 10 on either the European points list or world points list - the two criteria for automatic qualification for the team - could give him a major boost to make Jose Maria Olazabal's lineup.

It's one of the reasons why a player like Martin Laird, a Scot who plays on the U.S. PGA Tour, has made the trip across the Atlantic. He has already spoken to Olazabal.

"I wanted to talk to him to let him know that making the team is something I wanted to do," said Laird, twice a second-place finisher in the United States this year and ranked 31st.

The big stars of the U.S. tour continue to turn down the opportunity to play at the European Tour's top event, however.

Only three Americans are in the field this week and two of them - former U.S. PGA champions Rich Beem and Shaun Micheel - do not have full U.S. tour status.

"I would love to see this event become even stronger and attract some of the American players over here," Donald said.

Nicolas Colsaerts of Belgium is one of the players in contention for the Ryder Cup and he heads to Virginia Water, just outside London, having crept into the current overall top 10 thanks to his victory at the World Match Play Championship in Spain on Sunday.

"It's always been a dream of mine as a kid to play (the Ryder Cup) but there's a long way to go, so I don't want to make any plans or anything," he said.

Former Masters champion Mike Weir of Canada has withdrawn after injuring his lower back in the Byron Nelson last week and Simon Dyson, who was third here last year, is out with a hip complaint. But fellow Englishman Paul Casey, the 2009 winner, should be fit to start after missing the World Match Play with a shoulder problem.

Copyright 2014 by STATS LLC and The Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and The Associated Press is strictly prohibited.
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