Donald hopes Wentworth win can lead to major glory
Heading into the final competitive showdown before the US Open, the world's leading two players have yet again swapped positions in an absorbing game of golfing snakes and ladders.
Rory McIlroy's two-day encounter with a metaphoric Wentworth viper saw him miss the cut, while Luke Donald ascended his ladder with the ease of the most accomplished window cleaner.
Now this week's world number one is justifiably wondering whether he is climbing a stairway to golfing heaven and the paradise of becoming a major champion.
But winning the BMW PGA Championship offers no guarantee of landing one of the big four global titles - just ask the last man before Donald to successfully defend the West Course title.
Luke Donald hopes his win at Wentworth will propel him to a major victory. Photo: Getty
Colin Montgomerie won three in a row from 1998 but could never get the job done at a Masters, US Open, Open or PGA.
Donald, 34, is determined not to suffer such a fate and surely won't if he can successfully manage his insatiable desire to land a major.
"I am learning that I get more uptight at majors," Donald admitted last week. "I want to win so badly that sometimes that gets in the way."
A glance at the way the Englishman starts these championships confirms the point. He has not broken 70 in a major first round since he opened the 2006 PGA Championship with a 68.
Donald has invariably found himself playing catch-up and, despite his notable ability to go low in final rounds, can only boast six top-10 major finishes.
"I wanted to win this badly," Donald agreed after I suggested there was a major-like pressure during his successful title defence at Wentworth. "There was the chance to go back to number one and this is a course I have excelled at in recent years.
"There was a lot of pressure out there but I came through it with flying colours."
Donald is convinced this will stand him in great stead. He also acknowledges that managing his overwhelming desire to land a major is now his biggest challenge.
"I really think it is," he admitted. "Obviously I've proved technically and physically that I have got the game to win big tournaments and to hit the right shots under pressure when I need to.
"Mentally I'm getting close, I think, with the majors. This was a big week for me. I might have looked calm but there were a lot of nerves jangling around.
"This was a big week in terms of taking another step towards managing those feelings when you get under pressure."
Sports performance expert Dave Alred, who has worked with Donald since the beginning of 2010, will surely be concentrating his efforts on making sure his employer capitalises fully on this most impressive win.
Donald was ranked 32 in the world when they started working together and, in regular Tour events, the golfer has assumed a dominating demeanour in common with being the leading money winner on both sides of the Atlantic.
"The process is essentially one of repeatedly getting into an 'ugly zone', a place where you feel uncomfortable," Alred recently told Golf World magazine. "Then nibble away at that discomfort to create a competence.
"When you've got into that ugly area and been successful, it's a question of making sure the player takes that success to heart. Because what they have achieved is a fact.
"It bolsters belief, gives assurance and creates realistic expectation."
Donald's "ugly zone" is his mental state heading to his Thursday tee-off at a major. If he and Alred can find a way to deal with this issue, then contending next month at Olympic Club must be a realistic expectation for the world number one.
But what of the man he has deposed at the top of the rankings? McIlroy's rounds of 74 and 79 last Thursday and Friday were a horror show that led to a second successive missed cut.
When your schedule is as sparse as that chosen by the Northern Ireland youngster, you have to make sure you play all four rounds.
This week's trip to the Memorial Tournament in Ohio has become very important.
He has entered the Memphis tournament in the week between Memorial and his US Open defence. This is a clear sign of concern that McIlroy has not played enough competitive golf in recent times.
McIlroy's admission that his practice of late has not been as intense as it should have been was refreshingly honest and typical of a player who quickly learns from his mistakes.
Much is made of his celebrity lifestyle - and his Sunday visit to girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki in Paris en route to Ohio may raise a few eyebrows.
But perspective is needed here. If his girlfriend was Carloline Woznotsofamous, no-one would notice a visit to his beloved before heading off on a three-week trip to the other side of the world.
It was a perfectly natural thing to do and I suspect we will see a far more focused McIlroy when he arrives at Jack Nicklaus's tournament. Last year he finished fifth and his closing 68 proved the launch pad for his spectacular US Open triumph at Congressional.
This year he has a win, three runner-up finishes, a third and fifth from nine tournaments. He is still one of the form players of 2012 and McIlroy deserves to be counted as one of the US Open favourites.
Having a major already to his name, he is in a more elevated bracket than multiple winners this year like Jason Dufner, Hunter Mahan and, of course, Donald.
McIlroy already has a certain aura that his recent mishaps have not dented. But after his latest Wentworth win, Donald should feel the same way because he is undoubtedly ready to join his Ryder Cup team-mate in the major-winning club.
At Olympic Club, for the 2012 US Open, he just needs a decent start.