DUBLIN, June 1, 2011 (AFP) - World No. 1 Luke Donald of England plays for the first time since taking over the top spot in the rankings Thursday in the Memorial, a $6.2 million US PGA event hosted by Jack Nicklaus.
Donald, compatriot Lee Westwood and Germany's Martin Kaymer have all been atop the rankings in the past three weeks, setting the stage for a shootout in the final major tuneup event for the US Open in two weeks outside Washington.
With former World No. 1 Tiger Woods now fallen to 13th in the rankings and in the 19th month of a win drought since the scandal of his sex life was exposed, the top spot has again become an achievement within reach for many.
"As a kid you dream about winning majors and winning tournaments, but for me, I always kept an eye out on the world rankings and had an interest in it," Donald said Wednesday.
"I suppose for the bulk of my career Tiger was so far ahead that it never really crept into my mind. But in the last year or so, there has been more of an upheaval in the rankings. There has been a lot more movement, so I knew the opportunity was there."
Donald said he feels like he is the top player in the world as he makes final preparations for the US Open and what he hopes would be his first major title.
"The way the world rankings are, consistency is very highly weighted," said Donald. "If you can keep playing well week in and week out, keep earning those points, then you're going to climb in the world rankings and I don't think there's anybody been more consistent in the last nine months than me."
Donald sees the top ranking and a major title as somewhat different feats.
"Being ranked No. 1 is self-satisfactory in terms of you feel good about what you've done," he said.
"Winning a major makes you seem more accepted as a great player from your peers."
Donald, who played alongside Nicklaus in the 18-time major champion's last major round in 2005 at St. Andrews, earned the praise of this week's host as well.
"Luke's game has come a long way," Nicklaus said. "There isn't anybody who spends more time working on his golf game than I've seen in Luke Donald. He spends his time chipping and putting, chipping and putting. He wears out the practice greens.
"And I think that the effort he has put into it has been rewarded."
Donald took top spot by winning a playoff over Westwood last Sunday at the European Tour's PGA Championship at Wentworth, making him only the 15th player to become World No. 1 in a quarter-century of rankings.
He will play the first two rounds at Muirfield Village in quest of the $1.1 million top prize alongside the past two Masters winners, US star Phil Mickelson and reigning champion Charl Schwartzel of South Africa.
Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy and Players Championship winner K.J. Choi of South Korea are among those in a world-class field that lacks Woods, who is recovering from left knee and Achilles tendon injuries.