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Donald triumphant as Euro dominance strengthens

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Iain Carter | 00:16 UK time, Monday, 28 February 2011

Dove Mountain, Arizona

Snow lay on the desert greens of southern Arizona; meteorological evidence perhaps that the axis of the golfing globe had been tilted further from its traditional American heartland.

Another indicator that it is all change in the golfing world was that Luke Donald graduated from being a perennial member of the supporting cast to having his own name up in lights after his victory in the WGC Match Play final over Martin Kaymer.

Donald was the dominant force of the week. Never behind in any of his six matches he demonstrated why he is always such an important figure for Europe in Ryder Cups as he claimed his first WGC crown and biggest title of his career to date.

Matchplay suits him so well, despite his comparative lack of length off the tee. When he can see his opponent he is a different animal.

Donald knows what he has to do and it gives him clarity. Sometimes you can feel that he can become distracted by what the rest might do when the format is 72-hole strokeplay.

American commentators are left scratching their head how a player like Donald, with only two wins in five years in the US, can climb to number three in the world. The answer is born out of consistency and riding the wave of European domination in the world game at the moment.

Luke DonaldDonald has proved that raw power is not everything in golf

European Tour players have now won four of the last five World Golf Championships events and the last three majors with Kaymer claiming the US PGA, Louis Oosthuizen the Open and Graeme McDowell the US Open.

Kaymer is the game's new top dog. It was only a matter of time before the world rankings reflected what has become abundantly clear since August - that the 26-year-old son of a footballer from Dusseldorf is the best golfer on the planet.

A first major title was claimed when he won the play-off against Bubba Watson at Whistling Straits with an exemplary display of putting under pressure. That PGA Championship victory heralded eight straight rounds in the 60s as Kaymer swept to follow-up victories at the Dutch Open and Alfred Dunhill Links Championship.

This hat-trick of autumnal titles on top of a seventh-place finish at the Open brought him the season long Race to Dubai title. His 2011 campaign began with an eight-shot victory in Abu Dhabi. Remember when it was Tiger Woods who used to dominate in this way?

Kaymer reflected: "I think after the PGA Championship that gave me so much motivation and so much belief that I can win any tournament that I play.

"And I think the most important thing is that I kept working on my game, that I didn't stop. I didn't want to be just win once and you don't hear about me any more."

Of course, we have heard plenty already and all the indicators suggest this will not be a brief stay at the top of the rankings. Kaymer's surge has coincided with teaming up with Glaswegian caddie Craig Connelly who took the German's bag in May last year.

Connelly, who had previously caddied for Paul Casey, knows exactly the qualities that give his boss an X factor to set him apart from the rest. "His coolness, his calmness. He plays very much within himself and his course management is fantastic. He's exceptional," Connelly said.

Martin KaymerKaymer has been recognised as the current best player on the planet

Kaymer recognises the importance of equable temperament. His hero has always been the unflappable Bernhard Langer and the new world number one said: "For me it helps a lot to stay calm. But of course I'm mad at times; I'm excited about some things."

Lee Westwood, the man knocked from the top of the rankings, will not be unduly concerned that his 17-week reign has ended. Quite rightly he has always seen the rankings to be the by-product of performance rather than his main priority which remains claiming an elusive first major.

As he embarks on a further fortnight of competing in America the Englishman knows that his work is truly aimed at being able to peak for the Masters in April.

The need to quickly rediscover a semblance of form is far greater for Woods, the man Westwood succeeded as number one. The 14-time major champion clearly remains some way from completing the "process" of revamping his swing under the tutelage of Sean Foley.

Woods desperately needed to win his first-round match in the Match Play against Thomas Bjorn, but having earned the opportunity by forcing a sudden death play-off was unable to capitalise. He was once the most deadly finisher in the game, not anymore.

Unless there is a rapid turn around Woods will continue to slide down the rankings - he's now down to number five, as points accrued in 2009, when he won seven times, diminish in value and drop away from his tally.

There is a frenzy of opinion over what is wrong. Most pundits are suggesting Woods should increase his number of tournament appearances to play his way out of trouble. Others say he should bin Foley and go back to Butch Harmon who gave him the swing that ruled the world.

Woods isn't one for U turns and in any case it is impossible to see the man who teaches Phil Mickelson taking back his former charge. The most likely scenario is Woods continuing with what appears an ever more lonely "process".

The fact is Woods and Mickelson now trail four Europeans at the top of the rankings. It was only one week of matchplay and many an American complained that too many ranking points were up for grabs for a tournament of this nature, but the current list accurately portrays the new world order.

There has been a discernible shift that remains ongoing. It's been coming for a while and is nowhere near as surprising as springtime snow in the Arizona desert.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Good article as always Ian - you have the best job in the world, not that I'm jealous...!

    Luke was outstanding all week, his iron shots were magnificent, peppering the flag from everywhere - it must have been depressing for his opponents. Both him and Lee though need to win a major to cement their places and remove any arguments. I can see Lee having a great shot at the Masters as long as he regains his form from last season, but Luke may be better placed for the Open at a tough St Georges, especially if the wind blows. I still wouldn't write off Tiger just yet either, he was a phenomenon and there's still a chance he can get back there.

  • Comment number 2.

    One more thing - while I'm loving seeing the Europeans dominate, I have to say I really enjoy watching Bubba Watson play. The way he steps up and gives it an almighty lash and the fact that no one can be sure where the ball is going reminds me more of the golf I play - without the distance obviously!

  • Comment number 3.

    fantastic win for Donald. Amazing to see that he never fell behind in any of his matches. I'm really pleased for him and hope that he uses this as a springboard to winning a major or two. If only he could get a few extra yards out of his driver he'd be right up there with Kaymer and Westwood.

  • Comment number 4.

    It was great to see two players in the final whose coaches rarely get a mention.
    Isn't it about time the respective tours stopped coaches attending events and leave players to fend for themselves for a few days.
    I think it's staggering that a player of Woods' ability is so reliant on a coach at this stage of his career. Most of these coaches are in my opinion charlatans, many of whom weren't very good golfers themselves but can spin a good yarn.

  • Comment number 5.

    Yes, excellent win for Donald. Nice to see that the shift of power to European players (and Tour) is your new theme too, after years of Tiger stalking (although he's still in here!).

    One complaint is right though. There are too many ranking points available for a limited field, matchplay tournament. Donald's move indicative of that although agree the new world order is accurately reflected.

    Kaymer being young, talented and consistent suggests he has the potential to be at the top - or thereabouts - for the years to come and make it hard for Westy and Woods to get that spot back although with the points scores relatively close right now there is the potential for some swapping over the next few months.

    Mickelson didn't hit his Major run of form until his mid-30s. So with the old adage about form being temporary and class permanent, Woods shouldn't be written off in his quest to overhaul Jack's major tally. With a clearer head in his personal life and the sorting out of his golf swing (at some point) Woods' ability to compete will mean he will always be a good bet in a Major tournament over the next few years.

  • Comment number 6.

    Donald was awesome all week, he fully deserved his victory yesterday, it was all the more impressive as he recovered from a wobble in the middle of the round giving up a 3 hole lead, but he regained his composure to see of the new world no 1. I don't think Donald really got the credit he deserved for his performances at the Ryder Cup, he was rock solid, for me Europe's star performer.

    Kaymer also showed that after an indifferent display at Celtic Manor he can also excel in matchplay, however wasn't as ruthless as Donald and in a couple of matches his opponents poor play gifted him holes rather than him overpowering them.

  • Comment number 7.

    Great win for Donald. And, yes, Kaymer looks like being 'The Man' for a while now. Tiger Woods? Who knows. Hope he gets his mojo back soon, but maybe he won't.

  • Comment number 8.

    I cannot believe the fuss about the points allocation. There are very few other events, if any, which GUARENTEE places to the top 64 in the world. The Masters, for examples has a whopping 24 EXTRA points, (equivalent to winning a run of the mill European event,) a slightly larger field but with a lot of dead wood, and only guarentees the top 50. Another case of American sour grapes, I am afraid.

  • Comment number 9.

    I like Kaymer a lot. Ever since I watched him close-out the BMW International in Munich in '08...he looked something special then.
    For his age. he's got amazing temperament/mental-strength, he's long off the tee, has a great long-mid iron game and his putting is mustard.
    The fact that some folks think he's 'not exciting' or 'emotional' - well, he doesn't need to have any unique-individual 'thing' going on that seems to attract the crowds nowadays (i.e. silly hats/gloves/shoes, fluorescent/5h!t clothes, mega-bomb drives, spitting/swearing/club-throwing). He's got something much better than any of that: German efficiency.
    I also don't think there are any other players in the world right now who have that capability to rattle of wins consistently like Kaymer has and is doing.
    Martin Kaymer: No.1 for a long time...

  • Comment number 10.

    #4. yamser43. It's a fair point you make, I do think there is a lot of blame shifting going on and this is the role the coach can provide to take the blame when it goes wrong.

    Maybe one of the mind guru's can confirm, but I think the top players like to blame a coach when it goes wrong instead of looking in the mirror. Bob Torrace had a go at some of the Scottish Pro's recently and said something pretty similar.

  • Comment number 11.

    #9 - Silver Surfer - Totally agree, and think of this, what do you think Martin will be like in 10 years time when he's a seasoned pro in the prime of his career at a still very youthful 36!

    Quite possibly a few majors under his belt, a handful of Ryder cups..... the prospect is fantastic.

  • Comment number 12.

    Luke Donald's Match Play record is now:
    Walker Cup: 7 wins, 1 loss.
    Ryder Cup: 8 wins, 2 losses, one tie
    WGC: 16 wins, 6 losses
    Plus he won a World Cup with Casey.
    Phenomenal record, ironic that he lost his only PGA Tour play-off to a sublime Daly bunker shot!
    PS: Graham Marsh a previous beneficiary of Arizona desert snow (in April!) to win the 1999 Tradition!!

  • Comment number 13.

    @Givemeabreak
    He IS up there with Kaymer and Westwood - in fact, didn't he just recently beat Kaymer 3&2 in quite an important tournament? ;-)

  • Comment number 14.

    I am loving this european dominance in golf! Living with american golfers is very sweet right now :)

    We need Rors to step up for a major now and get him into the top 5 of the rankings! I believe him, Kaymer, and Fowler will be the top guys for many years.

    I find it hard to see Mickelson dominating like he once did. He is now 40 and i believe he has bad arthiritus. Going to be very hard for him but you never know.

    As for Tiger, im sure he will win more golf tournements and maybe a major or two. However, will he get to that magic 19? No chance. That is 5 majors which for anybody else is a great career. Tiger is now like every other top golfer. He doesnt have that scare factor when he is at the top of the leaderboard.

  • Comment number 15.

    #11 - Rankis.
    Not sure how many Majors he could win - you have to have a certain mindset to keep winning these over and over...remember, in the last 100 years of the sport, only 3 players have got into double-figures and only 16 players are on 5-9 majors.
    I'd put him the latter bracket, especially with the depth of talent there is nowadays and how courses are setup. (e.g. I'm not sure The Masters will be easy for him given that his stock-shot is a 5-10 yard fade...)

    #13 - cpkahl
    I think he means that generally, Donald will struggle cos of his distance off-the-tee: only averaging 265yds.
    I don't think his recent run of success is going to translate very well when it comes to the Majors...

  • Comment number 16.

    There seem to be plenty of people talking about Donald's lack of length off the tee and even about him trying to fix it, but no one seems to have an explanation for why. Yes he is a little shorter than average, but that hasn't stopped other similarly short players, for example Rory isn't exactly a giant but still hits a long ball.
    With the conditioning that these players put themselves through now you would expect him to be able to add some distance by some time in the gym rather than changing his swing.
    Would be interested to hear a pro's analysis of it as his swing isn't exactly unconventional.

  • Comment number 17.

    It's not Donald's length off the tee that's his main problem; it's his waywardness off the tee, average PGA Tour driving accuracy ranking 130th (out of approx 190 players). His "total driving" ranking in his last two full years averages 183rd. One would suggest that it is easier to improve accuracy than length, which of course WILL improve with more balls in the short grass.
    Short AND crooked leads to missed greens and Donald misses more than most, averaging 168th in greens hit in regulation these past three years.
    Thank goodness no-one has a better short game.

  • Comment number 18.

    Some of the commentary was poor yesterday, they seemed to have real trouble keeping track of whether the players were playing par 3's 4's, or 5's. Even David Howell was losing the plot, referring to Donald about having a tricky par putt when it was for birdie. I know some of the holes on that course appear similar on TV but its not that difficult to keep track of which hole they're playing!

  • Comment number 19.

    Yes it's odd, isn't it? The popular conception of Luke Donald is of an ultra smooth and 'steady' player - fairways and greens and all that - but the stats don't show this; they show that he's wayward but a great scrambler. More of a Harrington, if you like (but better, certainly these days). He's not long - is quite short, in fact - because he doesn't have much elasticity and torque going on in his swing (flip side being how stable and balanced he looks throughout).

  • Comment number 20.

    Re: kwiniaskagolfer: "Thank goodness no-one has a better short game."
    Luke Donald has never been top of scrambling on the PGA Tour...

  • Comment number 21.

    20: golfpro:
    That may be so, but last time I checked short game included bunker play and putting.
    Last year for instance, Luke Donald was 1st in sand saves as he was in 2009 also, 4th in scrambling, 8th in total putts.
    Perhaps someone compiled a better combined body of work, but I can't figure out who it would be.

  • Comment number 22.

    19: Sagamix:
    Surely Donald can improve his torque and elasticity in the gym? He may not be naturally as supple as others, but a little yoga would surely sort him out.
    I do agree with you, however, that his accuracy is more of a problem than his length off the tee. I don't think Donald is at a huge disadvantage hitting a 5 iron when others are hitting 7 irons when both are on the fairway as his iron play is very solid (from the fairway), but if he is hitting a 4 iron from the rough when others are hitting 7 he is at a huge disadvantage.

  • Comment number 23.

    The idea that too many points were awarded for a limited field matchplay event is completely wrong. For all their failings the WG rankings are the best we have right now and on the whole are a fair reflection of the players in form (though Tiger Woods is most certainly NOT the 5th best player in the world right now).

    More importantly there are not enough matchplay events. Sure, 72 hole strokeplay is perfect for TV, ensuring that 70-80 players make it through to the weekend. But matchplay provides exciting golf that rewards risk takers.

    Here's an idea. How about a mixed strokeplay / matchplay event? Start with 128 players. 64 make it to Friday and 32 for a weekend of matchplay.

  • Comment number 24.

    Iain - excellent article as always. Refreshing when compared to another golf website, as are the blogs here.
    Donald was awesome most of the week, closely followed by Kaymer.
    My feeling in matchplay..and could this be one secret to Donald's success...was to be shorter..just..than your opponent. You play first. Hit a good shot you put your opponent under pressure to do the same or better. Hit a bad shot and its a different sort of pressure.
    Nothing would please me more than to see the European momentum continue. The strength in depth, the variation in courses and conditions on the World (sorry, European) Tour produces better golfers who can win anywhere. I'm hoping for another good week in Florida.
    #23 - UglyPar - years ago of course this is how they played Majors. In Jones time they played 36 holes strokeplay with the top so many going forward to play matchplay. Still a few top amateur events around the world do the same. It wasn't that long ago things changed, I suppose with the advent of TV.. but why not play a few like this?

  • Comment number 25.

    Surely Luke Donald to have a chance at St Georges. You look back and none St Andrews Opens and short hitting was key to doing well. Turnberry, Tom Watson was close and Stewart Cink barely used the driver. Todd Hamilton came home with a hybrid in rounds 3 and 4. If he can hit a 3 wood 240 and hit 80% of fairways at The Open he will win, surely a player of his talent and dedication can do that.
    Plus Martin kaymer is the man to beat Nicklaus 18 majors. Tiger will win a late US Open, probably at Pebble in 10 years but i cant see him challenging at Augusta again, due to putting problems. And after studying hours of Woods in 2000/2001 will somebody please tell him to start holding it off again?? Tigers 'wee' fade was the key to his success.
    Sorry to ramble on ...

  • Comment number 26.

    I agree, Jack, that it's now not likely Woods will get to 19. He may never win another major - or tournament even, golf is a funny game (Duval?). I want to see him get his game back, but maybe he won't.

    Think this 'swing remodel' is cover for mental slippage (post personal dramas). He had a great season in 2009, won 6 or 7 times, won the Fedex Cup, was player of the year, should have won a 15th major at the PGA - major swing change needed? Hardly.

    His other two swing changes made sense - first one was to be more consistent, second one to take strain off his knees - but this one? no, I'm not convinced.

    Golf is a big 'head game' - if TW gets that straight he'll win loads more. Which is why it might not happen; harder to fix your head than a golf swing.

    So, probably no 19 for Tiger - but hey I wouldn't set Kaymer that sort of target! ... he has one major at an age (26) by which Tiger had won EIGHT.

    No, Martin Kaymer looks the real deal (and I can see multiple majors) but Woods remains 'the' golfer of the modern game. Don't expect to see anything remotely close in my lifetime (and I'm not that old).

  • Comment number 27.

    26. Drawing ever closer. The keys are under the pebbles on the beach - Continental hotel.

  • Comment number 28.

    :-) I'll work on that.

    The Cadillac this week. I have a hunch for nobody in particular.

  • Comment number 29.

    :) Let me know the tee off time when known.

    Barcelona awaits - and you are right about callagher.

  • Comment number 30.

    Great post Iain... have to agree with #1 - think you really do have the best job in the world! It's great to see European momentum going forward for a change..

  • Comment number 31.

    Wow, how dominant the European Tour Players are. The European Tour must be thriving then? NOT!

    Too bad Ian, as dominant as you portray them to be, how come they couldn't support their own tour better. This week's ET event in Spain requires one of it's players, Jemenez, to put up his own money just to keep it going. The Euro Tour is so dominaant that most of their top players play far more times in the US than in mainland Europe, excluding the three majors and WGCs played in America. How many times have Westwood, GMac, McIlroy, Luke, Kaymer played on European continent this year? How about ZERO!

    Mr. Carter, before you gloat over your recent run of European success, I'd worry if the ET will even have enough meaningful events on it's own continent in the future to still call it the European Tour. Maybe, the should stand for East not Europe, as in the Far and Middle East Tour.

 

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