DUBAI, UNIED ARAB EMIRATES l After putting the finishing touches to the historic double of U.S. and European money lists, Luke Donald revealed that his ultimate ambition would be to win a Grand Slam. “The chances are slim, but it’s possible,” said the man who has won comfortably more than £9 million this year.
Donald was still “Rory-conscious” at the start of Sunday’s final round of the Dubai World Championship, the reason being that if Rory handed in an out-of-this-world score to win the tournament, Donald would have to finish in the top nine to lead The Race to Dubai. However, when he reached the 13th and there was no sign of McIlroy on the leaderboard, he knew he was home and dry.
That was when he turned his attention to trying to beat Alvaro Quiros for the tournament title which, with a second successive 66, he very nearly did.
“To win both money lists became possible halfway through the season and to have it happen is almost a weight off my shoulders,” said Donald.
As he played the last few holes, thoughts surfaced of his father, Colin, who died unexpectedly last month, and of how proud he would have been. Tears infiltrated his smile as he admitted, “He would have given me a big hug.”
The Englishman’s play, with particular reference to his irons, was at times absurdly brilliant over the week. Yet, in terms of confidence, there was the odd hiccup as he and McIlroy played together over the first round.
He unleashed a couple of wayward drives as the 22-year-old Ulsterman seemed to get under his skin, firstly by bettering a couple of his famous irons and then by holing a battery of long putts. Though Donald had been three ahead at the turn, McIlroy ended up with a
six-shot lead as he posted a 66 against a 72.
Donald put those loose tee shots down to “slight swing flaws which creep in when I’m nervous.” Some were surprised when Donald said straight out that he had found it “hard” playing with McIlroy. Such an admission was surely not what the psychologists would have advised.
Donald, though, prefers to tell it as it is.
It was back in 2006, when he was still working with Jim Fannin, that he went public with his plans to be the best in the world. “If you want to be great, you have to believe you are great before you can get there, and that’s why I’m approaching each major as if I’m the best player there,” he said.
Christian Donald, Luke’s brother, explained why he had given up that approach in a hurry. “It simply wasn’t him,” he said. “Tiger was so far ahead of Luke at that point that Luke couldn’t begin to accept what he was telling himself.”
Now, judging from that Grand Slam remark, his confidence is the real thing. In the opinion of Guy Kinnings, his European manager at IMG, he is nearing nine out of 10 in terms of belief as against the 10-out-of-10 he would have awarded Tiger Woods in his hey-day.
In Christian’s view, the Dave Alred approach has made the difference. Alred, Rugby player Jonny Wilkinson’s kicking coach, calls for Luke’s every practice session to be competitive. He has to repeat the same shots every day before sending the results to the rugby man for analysis. “Dave can furnish Luke with proof of his progress,” said Christian.
Donald’s tournament results serve the same purpose – four wins this year and a total of 20 top-10 finishes in 26 starts.
Quiros, for one, doubts whether Donald could be any stronger mentally than he already is. The winner marvelled at the way he had come from nowhere on the first day to be challenging him for the title.
To a man, Donald’s fellow professionals are mesmerised by the way he is playing their game. Sergio Garcia, who, like Christian, was there to give Luke a hug at the end of the tournament, put it like this: “When you looked at Luke a few years ago, you thought he was good, very good, but you weren’t going to say, ‘Oh, he’s amazing.’ In time, though, what you realise is that there are very few flaws – almost none. From 100 yards in, his game is exquisite.”
A shattered McIlroy had admitted on Saturday night that Donald had had the better of him where The Race to Dubai was concerned.
“Luke deserves it. He’s played great all year and to win the money list in the States in the fashion he did, and to then come over here and wrap it up is amazing. I hope he gets the recognition he now deserves; he’s not been given the credit for how good his golf has been.”
McIlroy, who has been diagnosed with a hint of Dengue Fever, plans not to hit another full shot before the 12th of January, when he will warm up for the new season back here in Dubai.
Donald, meantime, is playing in this week’s Australian Masters, where you have to suspect that even his enviable concentration will be punctuated by thoughts of what he has done. And what he plans to do next.