Real deal Donald silences critics
It was tempting to think of it as a mere Mickey Mouse end-of-season tournament, but the Disney course in Lake Buena Vista staged the most important and impressive win of Luke Donald's career to date.
By storming through the field to claim the PGA Tour season-ending Children's Miracle Network Hospitals Classic, Donald emphatically answered the critics who regard him as a walking cash machine rather than an out and out winner.
There were no second chances with this event. The 33-year-old Englishman knew that nothing less than a top-two finish would allow him to become the first European to win America's money list.
Luke Donald is presented with his winner's trophy after clinching Disney's Children's Miracle Network Classic title which helped him capture the US money title too. PHOTO: Getty
If he failed, the most successful season of his career would still have a frustrating asterisk to indicate another near miss. The mutterers would be off again: "Typical Donald, just fails to get the job done. Again." And one suspects the loudest of those voices would belong to the man himself.
Furthermore, with Webb Simpson - the player he had to overtake on the money list - playing alongside him and prominent on the leaderboard, Donald knew by the final round that in all likelihood only a win would do.
Yes, Donald has played against and beaten stronger competition this year, but this was as motivated a field as there is at a PGA Tour event because many were scrapping for their careers and the right to continue to play the most lucrative circuit in the game.
It wasn't so much the five shots Donald made up over the closing 10 holes at Disney as the fact that he produced nigh-on perfect golf to surge from a share of 10th place to claim his fourth win of the year.
"It was kind of do or die," the world number one commented afterwards. Producing that calibre of golf with six birdies in a row from the 10th, holing 84 feet worth of putts in the process, shows what the WGC Matchplay, PGA and Scottish Open champion can do when under the cosh.
"Having this much on the line, coming up and shooting 30 on the back nine on Sunday, finding shots when I needed to, really will mean a lot to me and the people I work with," Donald added.
In the process he blew away Simpson's bid to hang on to his lead on the money list. The American's game visibly buckled under the relentless pressure applied by Donald's brilliance.
Currently leading the European Tour's Race to Dubai by more than 1.3m euros from his closest rival Rory McIllroy (who has played four more counting events), Donald is now destined to become the first to top the earnings lists on both sides of the Atlantic.
This is an astonishing feat. Tiger Woods regularly achieved the same thing but without being a member of the European Tour. As a result he was not bound by the potentially debilitating rigours of satisfying the playing requirements of both circuits.
Since going to the top of the world rankings by winning a play-off against the then world number one Lee Westwood to claim the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth in May, Donald has remorselessly increased his lead in the standings.
This year he has accumulated just more than 500 ranking points, US Open champion McIlroy is the next most impressive with just more than 300.
In basic terms, the rankings are determined by the average of points gained over two years divided by the number of tournaments played. The more events played, the higher the divisor and no one in the top 50 has played more than Donald's 54 counting tournaments.
Yet his points average of 10.75 is now 3.27 ahead of Westwood in second place. Putting the gap between first and second into context, Donald's advantage roughly equates to the lead Westwood has over the world number 17, Justin Rose.
Here we have statistical proof of just how dominant the Briton has become at beating more golfers more regularly than anyone else.
Donald's critics say he does not win often enough, but no player has won as many tournaments on the main tours in 2011. Many believe his peers in America will vote him Player of the Year and that if they don't it will be an injustice.
Respected American golf writer Steve Elling, of CBS Sports, put it this way: "If the American players don't vote for Donald when the ballots are mailed, the process is a complete sham and future honours should be decided by a panel of experts who are actually paying attention."
When the end of season gongs are handed out on this side of the Atlantic the choices will be somewhat harder given the major successes of European Tour players Charl Schwartzel (Masters), McIlroy (US Open) and Darren Clarke (Open).
Donald's sustained excellence bears comparison with those victories even though all were earned in great style but it is, of course, in the majors where the Englishman has yet to fulfill his potential.
Sir Nick Faldo tweeted his congratulations and stated that he believes Donald will break through at next year's Masters, where traditionally the tournament is won by the best putter.
There is no one better in that department at the moment and former Masters champion Zach Johnson was moved to apologise to former putting wizard Brad Faxon and tell his Twitter followers: "Ok. I think Luke Donald is the best putter I've ever seen. Sorry Fax. Love ya, but Luke is a #machine."
Undoubtedly the majors provide the world number one with his greatest ambition, they always have done. But from now on he will surely be better equipped than ever to handle the attendant pressures.
Surely at the Disney, we saw compelling evidence that in the majors, Donald's duck is soon to be broken.