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Neither Wind Nor Hail Nor Cold…

MARANA, ARIZONA I What we learned during a week of hail, high winds and unplanned hikes into cactus and mesquite trees – not that we didn’t know – was the best players in golf are from Europe and that the worst conditions in golf most likely are at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship.
It was the Irish amateur Joe Carr who said that while stroke play may be a better test of golf, match play is a better test of character. At the Accenture, in the foothills north of Tucson, it also can be a test of survival.
When was the last tournament you saw a competitor with a scarf – actually something called a buff – hoisted over his nose, like a bandito in Western movies – as did Martin Kaymer to keep his neck and face warm during the c-c-cold Sunday final?
The extra protection didn’t seem to make much difference in Kaymer’s golf as the guy the politically-incorrect call the “Germanator’’ was defeated by Luke Donald, 3 and 2, who after Ian Poulter, became the second straight Englishman to take the WGC-Accenture. Donald also zoomed into third place in the world rankings.
Of course, Kaymer, after defeating Bubba Watson in the semifinals, already had become No. 1 in the world.
So, if you’re counting, and everybody east of the Atlantic is, it’s Kaymer of Germany, first; Lee Westwood of England (the previous leader), second; Donald of England (although he did graduate from Northwestern and mostly plays the PGA Tour) third; and Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland, fourth.
It’s the first time since 1992, 19 years, that no American has been in the top four. The player some thought would be No. 1 in perpetuity, one Eldrick Woods, a.k.a. Tiger, has slipped to fifth, while Phil Mickelson is sixth. In the Accenture, as if to reaffirm the rankings, Tiger was ousted in the first round, Mickelson in the second.
Whether the Accenture will be ousted from the area it’s been played the past five years, the first two at The Gallery and then the last two another couple miles through the Saguaro at the Ritz-Carlton Club, Dove Mountain, nobody knows. This was the last year of the contract, and it’s become evident that late February at 2,700 feet elevation in Arizona isn’t exactly like late July.
“I woke up,” said PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem of Sunday morning, “and there was snow all over the place.” For a while on the course itself, and throughout the day on the rocky bluffs above it. And once play began, a hailstorm arrived, briefly halting the golf.
“Kind of bizarre,” said Donald, “coming down on my umbrella.”
A year ago, the Saturday semis were hit with rain and rain out of the pages of the Last Judgment.
This time the plan was to have the semis and the finals – the latter reduced from 36 holes to 18 – both on Sunday. But the forecast was dire, so the semis were pushed back to Saturday with the quarterfinals. A good thing, too.
Looking at the snow a few hundred feet above the fairways one was reminded of the great Jimmy Demaret line when three inches of the white stuff sat at Pebble Beach during the 1963 Crosby, to wit: “I know I had a lot to drink last night, but how did I wake up in Squaw Valley?”
The Accenture had been played at La Costa up the coast from San Diego, but poor weather – rain, not snow – and poor attendance had the Tour making a change. Now you have to wonder what happens.
You don’t have to wonder about 33-year-old Luke Donald, however. He’s at last fulfilling a promise. Never has hit the ball very long, although he did win the NCAA title in 1999. As he pointed out, “There’s more to the game than hitting it far.”
Donald never trailed once in any of his six matches, a first in the history of the Accenture. Never reached the 18th hole once in any of those six. As Matt Kuchar, who would beat Bubba Watson in the consolation final, remarked after he was whipped by Luke, 6 and 5, in the semis, “There’s no escaping Luke Donald.”
For a while, there was no escaping for Luke Donald. He had gone five years without a win on the PGA Tour, and the British media was harsh.
“I was depicted as someone happy to pick up checks,” said Donald, who this week picked up one for $1.4 million. “Not caring about winning. I feel my work ethic is as good as any player’s.”
Donald majored in art at Northwestern, paints and has his name on a cabernet wine produced by Terlato, which may give some the incorrect impression he is more dilettante than golfer. But he is tougher than he looks, with an 8-2-1 record in the Ryder Cup. And in this Accenture, he had 31 birdies in the 89 holes he played.
“I felt like I hadn’t won my fair share over the years,” said Donald.
He won this Accenture, which could be the last one in Arizona.


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