Luke Donald opens with flashes of former world No. 1 self at 2023 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship
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Luke Donald opens with flashes of former world No. 1 self at 2023 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

A picture of golfer Luke Donald

Could Luke Donald play well enough in the next seven, eight months to give himself the green light to be a playing captain at the 2023 Ryder Cup in Italy?

After opening with 8-under 64 in the first round of the 2023 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, the sitting European Ryder Cup captain is atop the 132-player field in the first Rolex Series event of the DP World Tour season.

The conventional wisdom is that Ryder Cup captains tend to see their games degrade as they dive deeper into their role as a team head in the biennial competition, but the former world No. 1 doesn't see it that way for him.

"I actually came into this year with higher expectations than I had in a while just for my own game. You know when you're swinging reasonably well," he said Thursday.

Donald has put in the work into his game, and he expected to see the fruits of that labor.

"I feel like I've done some good work on my long game with Jamie Gough, and I've done some good work with my short game with Pat Goss. And to be honest, I feel like my game is in a pretty good spot," he said. "It's not totally surprising that I shot 64 today. I went out there, again, last couple days, I've been hitting it nicely, swinging well, and it was nice to carry that on today."

But Donald doesn't have any illusions that he's going to become a playing captain in Rome. Ranked 541st in the Official World Golf Ranking coming into this week, Donald would have to enjoy an unprecedented meteoric rise to get on the 12-person team he'll lead.

"1975? I think the last time that happened," he said. "No, we are a long way from that."

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