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Luke Donald savours world number one status

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Rob Hodgetts | 07:43 UK time, Monday, 30 May 2011

Luke Donald put his money where his mouth is and came out on top of the world.

Donald said at the start of the week that he felt like the best player in the world and after a roller-coaster four days at the PGA Championship at Wentworth he proved it.

The pre-tournament hype for the European Tour's flagship event talked up the quality of the field - the top three players in the world, six out of the top seven in the world rankings, all four major champions, most of the European Ryder Cup team. In the end it came down to a straight duel between the world's top two and Donald delivered the crucial blow in a sudden death play-off to topple Lee Westwood.

Donald, 33, becomes the third Englishman after Sir Nick Faldo and Westwood to be crowned world number one and the 15th overall since the rankings were introduced in 1986. Like Westwood before him, though, Donald said that the top spot is flattering but not a goal in itself.

"It's obviously a special accomplishment, something I'll remember forever," Donald reflected. "It's something that will be a great story when I'm an old man telling my grandkids that I was once the best player in the world at golf. It's a little surreal.

"I'm not going to lie, it feels fantastic, but winning is always at the top of the list. Winning is what got me there. A big win at the Match Play and a big win here. I've still got a lot of work to do and a lot of titles to pick up."

Luke Donald at Wentworth

Donald says his daughter has helped inspire his rise up to world number one. Photo: Getty

There will be those who say, like they did with Westwood, that a world number one without a major victory is not worthy. But does, for instance, one major title in an otherwise undistinguished career better the feat of being recognised as the most consistent - and therefore, for that spell, the best - player on the planet?

Ultimately, though, majors are the currency in which golf careers deal and Donald's singular aim at the beginning of the year was to contend in all four majors. He was fourth at the Masters and goes to the US Open at Congressional in two weeks on a high.

He has now finished in the top 10 in 13 of his last 14 events, including nine in a row, won the WGC Match Play title in February and was second in the World Match Play Championship last week.

His current run of form and his biggest strokeplay victory to date should now silence the criticism that dogged earlier parts of his career.

Donald, born in Hemel Hempstead and now based in Chicago, made his early mark as a champion collegiate golfer while at Northwestern University in the United States in 1999. He played on the victorious GB & Ireland Walker Cup side that year and again in 2001 before turning pro.

He won his first event, the Southern Farm Bureau Classic on the PGA Tour, in 2002 and added two European Tour titles in 2004. Donald finished third at the Masters on his debut in 2005 and clinched another US win, the Honda Classic, in 2006. In that same year he was also third in the USPGA.

However, then came a fallow spell in terms of title success. Often known as "Plod" for his precise, steady game, he banked life-changing amounts of money (currently more than $22m in the US alone) without further victories - a state of affairs once unfairly termed 'Luke Donald disease'.

But Donald was developing and building slowly, and he finally burst the dam when he captured the 2010 Madrid Masters, the week after blowing the lead on the 17th in the final round of the PGA at Wentworth. He was third in the Wales Open at Celtic Manor straight after that and then played a starring role as a wildcard, winning his third cap, in Europe captain Colin Montgomerie's Ryder Cup side in October 2010. He now has not only won two big titles this season, but leads the money lists in both America and Europe.

Donald's form has coincided with the link-up with with performance coach Dave Alred - ex-guru of England rugby star Jonny Wilkinson - to compliment the work of his swing coach of 14 years Pat Goss. The player also said the birth of his first child Elle last year has been a huge benefit to his life.

"It's been a real blessing to become a father," Donald stated. "My golf has only gone from strength to strength. It's given me a lot more responsibility. I've grown up and become a better person.

"She really is an inspiration to me, just watching her grow, learning new skills, adapting, becoming better at what she is. That's what I'm trying to do at golf, too. Just every day, try to figure out a way to improve. She does that every day." World golf needs to watch out - Donald's wife Diane is expecting their second child in November.

But at Wentworth we saw a different side to Donald, too. No longer the plodder, he can also win ugly. The opening 64 was stunning. The outward 40 on Saturday belonged to the freak show. Wayward off the tee, he spent more time in the trees than Tarzan.

Luke Donald (l) and Dave Alred (r)

Alred (r) has been helping to transform Donald's game. Pic Getty Images

However, instead of capitulating, Donald drew on the work he has been doing with Alred on performing under pressure - they are trying to instil a mindset that views success as inevitable - and dug deep, pulling off the kind of escapes that were the trademark of the late, great Seve Ballesteros, who won five World Matchplays and the PGA title at Wentworth.

"After an event, such as a bad shot, the most important thing is the next event," preaches Alred.

So blocking out what had gone before, Donald came home in four-under 32.

"That back nine was crucial to the victory," BBC golf commentator Ken Brown said.

"I felt like Seve would have been proud of me," Donald added.

Donald's achievement in reaching the summit of the game also shows that golf has not become all about power. With an average driving distance on the PGA Tour of 277.7 yards, compared to leader JB Holmes' 316 yards, Donald is one of the shorter hitters (156th, in fact).

And, despite the old caricature, he is not that accurate either as some of his play at Wentworth showed - 33rd in driving accuracy with 65.38% of fairways hit. But he possesses a killer short game and ranks third in scrambling - making par or better despite failing to reach the green in regulation.

Donald's search for success has even seen him part company with brother Christian as his caddie last year, replacing him with experienced bagman John McLaren.

And the new high-performance mindset was very much in evidence amid the storm that still swirled around Wentworth about last year's changes to the West Course. Some moaned that it was too difficult, no fun anymore and that new-look 18th has been tricked up. Donald just shrugged.

"It doesn't matter whether or not you like the course, the challenge is to figure out how to get around in the least amount of shots," he said.

Based on the last 12 months, the new strain of 'Luke Donald' disease is worth catching.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Take note Paul Casey and Ian Poulter!!

    Just get on with it, play the course that's put in front of you and stop moaning, you get paid millions to play the game. Luke and Lee are total golfers, they might not enjoy the course and might not agree with the changes, but they play it and play it well, that's why they are No.1 and No.2, and you two are also ran's!!

    Well done Luke, fantastic!!

  • Comment number 2.

    I was at Wentworth on Sunday and Luke Donald just oozes the coolness and calmness of the aforementioned "Assasin" - His 2nd Shot to the 7th was by far the greatest "Live" golf shot i have ever seen.

    I am a big Mannasero fan (Who i feel one day will be a future world numbr 1) - The sheer occasion that was yesterdays final round, never fazed Luke, where as Mannasero, in his own words "Had never led such a large tournamtent going into he final round"

    I now have confidence in Luke aproaching a final round, whre sometimes i still feel Westwood even struggles, and to say that he is an early contender fo SPOTY 2011 is not far wrong, suddenl that fiver i put on at the start of he year @ 100/1 does no look bad value at all.

    Keep going Luke. you are inspiring others to pick up the clubs, and spend hours practising around the greens. - It can only be a matter of time before you get your hands on the big one.

  • Comment number 3.

    A deserved number, Luke like Lee before him has been consistant for a period of time and like Lee thoroughly deserves to be number one. Also remember Luke showed great loyalty to europe by playing several events on the european tour to ensure his place on the Ryder cup team. Others will say he is not a worthy number one because of the old not won a major cliche but he is there and that is the fact based on the ranking system.As is rightly put in the article many have won a major and not done anything much else throuhout their carear (ben curtis tod hamilton).
    The only negative comment i would make is that maybe he would have prefered to have won differently as Lee was to say the least unlucky with his pitch.
    Lets hope the battle for number one stays between the two of them and that one of or both bag a major soon which would be the icing on the cake for two of them.

  • Comment number 4.

    Good stuff, Rob. Good to see some 606-insight in there.

    Perhaps a significant step taken by Lukey was the two-or three-month break last winter; didn't start his season until LA in late Feb, unlike most others who spent so much time chasing filthy lucre around the world, and who are now suffering inevitable slumps in form.
    The birth of child #2 will give him the same chance this coming year so let's hope he resists the temptation of seeking easy paydays and takes the downtime so essential to top athletes, regardless of their sport.

    PS: Don't give him much chance at Congressional though, where his lack of length will surely catch up with him.

  • Comment number 5.

    I'm afraid with no majors on his CV he is not the best in the world. I don't think even one major is enough, it's got to be a least two or three. The rankings are misleading.

  • Comment number 6.

    PS. How bad is the BBC website golf coverage. I mean even the final scoring on the Byron Nelson report page below the picture is wrong. Come on, up the ante!

  • Comment number 7.

    sorry but for someone like donald to be no1 without a sniff of a major win is shameful,westwood has come close on numerous occasions, albeit choking when it matters(oh tiger are you still hunting the birds,please come back)

  • Comment number 8.

    Yeah....isn't it golf journos like you who mostly whine on about or give airtime to this stupid argument about whether a no.1 ranked player should also be a major winner?

    If you just want to value Major wins then just rank players on their Major performances or have two ranking systems....whatever you want to keep you happy no matter how flawed any alternative will be. Then you'll start whining that the British Open isn't as good a Major as the others because it's links or the US Open is just about whether you can drive straight with penal rough and putt on an upturned bowl made of glass.

    So, Louis Oosthuizen for no.1 right now anyone? Schwartzel....Michael Campbell maybe......Shaun McKeel, YE Yang........even Stuart Cink.................

    Winning a Major still means you were the best player in that field, that week - even allowing for all the extra hullabaloo of the crowds, the TV, the money etc.

    Multiple major wins are required too.....so that means Paddy Harrington is the World no.1 if not lefty......

    We've been spoiled over the last decade or so in sports like Golf and Tennis with Woods and Federer. Now it's time to figure out what happens if you don't have a dominant player but consistently, relatively successful players.

  • Comment number 9.

    *8. spot on

    A great win by the best player in the world. It cant be long though before it gets tarnished by the same critics who have tried to pull Westwood down. Where does it say in the rules of tournament golf that the World number one must have won a major? Surely it must be better to be running in the top 20/30 for a decade or more than to win a solitary major and fade away. Todd Hamilton and Ben Curtis both won arguably the best tournament in golf yet where are they now? A major win should receive major ranking points as it does but compulsory for a no1 spot, forget it

  • Comment number 10.

    Finally, the right person is #1.

  • Comment number 11.

    Come on guys, how long are we gonna have to keep going over the same rubbish that to be no1 you have to have won a major!!! On that basis, who's a worthy number 1? Charl, Louis, Graeme or Kaymer? They are the major holders but are they playing world number 1 quality golf at the moment.....no they are not. It's a silly argument so come on Tiger, get yourself sorted and we can forget this pointless issue!!

  • Comment number 12.

    @ #8.

    EXACTLY. Thats exactly what I've been trying to tell people, that this is what happens when you dont have 1 person dominating anymore. It just means golf is different, not better or worse, just different. It was the same system that kept Tiger Woods in the #1 spot for so long, so whats suddenly so wrong with it now?

    Instead of moaning about it, you'd think people would enjoy seeing different winners all the time. I know I do. And whats happening with the #1 spot is only indicative of what happens when things get mixed up.

    When Schumacher won every grand prix, everybody moaned. Then when he moved to a not so stellar team, they moaned that he couldnt win anymore. When there was no overtaking in F1, people moaned. Now people moan (and I cant quite believe this myself) that there is too much overtaking!!

    The point I'm trying to get at is that some people are never happy. So they'll moan whether the #1 in golf is a major winner or not. And if he is, they'll find something else to moan about, possibly not enough major wins.

    It gets ridiculous afer a while, so the best thing to do is ignore it and just enjoy the sport by ones own standards. And I'm enjoying golf right now (and formula 1 too).

  • Comment number 13.

    Delighted to have seen history happening - two English golfers head to head for the PGA and World no.1 in a play off. For older viewers it hasn't been this good since Oosterhis and Coles - sorry - Ovett and Coe. Luuuke and Westy are the best in the world cos guess what - they usually play better than everyone else. When 4 golfers were up for no.1 in Shanghai last year, Westwood pulverized Woods, Kaymer and Mickleson and yet got slagged off because Molinari had the best week of his life. I'm almost Kevin Keegan cross at their detractors and 'I'd love it' if one of them won the US Open. Well done to both.

  • Comment number 14.

    Well done to Donald & Westwood. Lets hope they can win a major and not be the subject of quiz questions in years to come on number ones who never won majors - Marcelo Rios in tennis. I bet he would swap the number one ranking he achieved for one major

  • Comment number 15.

    Yes it's fair enough - Luke Donald is the best golfer in the world right now.

  • Comment number 16.

    Many would agree with me that Luke Donald will be extremely tough to dethrone as the No.1 player of the World. This stems obviously from his consistency. Many Congratulations Luke & Keep It Up!!

  • Comment number 17.

    Luke Donald has been by a long way the best player in the World over the last 12 months. He won one Matchplay title with a very strong field and was second in another with the best players in Europe competing and was the outstanding player in the Ryder Cup. Then he goes and beats the then number one in the World in one of the Flagship tournaments in Golf.

    Whether he wins a Major or not, he is the deserved no 1 in the World and I hope he captures a Major this year, just to confirm his status.

  • Comment number 18.

    "It was the same system that kept Tiger Woods in the #1 spot for so long, so whats suddenly so wrong with it now?"

    This is the same argument that Iain Cater used. We really need to put things into context and perspective though.

    Woods was deserving of his #1 status. He was consistent in winning and finishing in the, say, top ten. Westwood was deserving of his #1 status last year. He has done nothing in the past 6 months. Donald deserves to be #1 and should have been the case months ago!

    The ranking system is flawed. We did not realise this before as Woods was dominant. As a matter of fact, Woods does not deserve to be even at #12!

  • Comment number 19.

    I wouldn't walk the plank for the system as it is, but the only change Mr Patriot is suggesting is that it is more weighted to the last 12 months rather than the last 24. I think this was a more vivid problem a few years ago when it took Vijay Singh six victories, five grumbles and a Tiger drought to overtake the Great Eldrick for a short period. The other issue is that our lads haven't 'closed the deal' and actually won enough tournaments. In golf, the stats prove it is far more difficult to do this than in other sports and unless we want a system of weightings which disregard any finish other than a victory, I reckon at the minute, it is about right: Luke 1, Lee 2 - er... who else deserves those slots?

  • Comment number 20.

    While I don't agree world number 1 must have won a major, I do feel winning majors is the greater achievement.
    People who argue that the likes of Todd Hamilton, Ben Curtis, Michael Campbell, Rich Beem (among others) have had lesser careers are correct, but need to consider the other side of the coin - would Phil Mickelson (4 majors) or Padraig Harrington (3) swap places with Westwood or Donald? Or Goosen, or Cabrera? Not a chance! Its unlikely Mickelson will ever be number 1 in the rankings now, but will certainly go down as one of the all-time greats.

    For the record, I'm sure Donald will win majors, his short game is too good not to (though agree with Kwini it won't be Colonial this year). Westwood I'm not so sure, but he'll certainly have a few more chances

  • Comment number 21.

    I don't understand the "must have a major" argument ... I don't think many would disagree that Tiger Woods is the best player ever to play the game of games - but he hasn't won the most majors?

    So if he is entitled to the title of "best player ever" without winning the most majors - why should a world number 1 get less credit just because he hasn't one a major?

    Does Tiger show that the major standard falls down as the measuring stick of choice?

  • Comment number 22.

    Brilliant line Golfsmurf! Never thought Tiger would be used to kybosh the 'mustafa majors' of this world.
    Meanwhile, on a different topic, did any other hacker out there look on bemused as Luke and Lee claimed free drops after whacking it into mad places because their stance was impeded? Ian Poulter did it as well in the matchplay and still ended up sliding into the ditch for his trouble. If I was the ref I'd have just said: 'Boys - if you want a perfect stance, keep it on the fairway'

  • Comment number 23.

    After three rounds of the Memorial, Luke Donald is:
    T1st in driving accuracy.
    73rd and plum last in sand saves, the only player in the field without having got it up and down from a bunker.
    Who'd've thunk it?

 

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