Donald on top of the world
NEVER has a 50-footer across the final green for an eagle and a victory been so overshadowed. Like everyone who understands the vagaries and rigours of professional golf, Alvaro Quiros would have appreciated why Luke Donald was commanding the spotlight. Here was history to hail.
With a weekend's display which will rival the gutsiest ever witnessed on the European Tour, Donald achieved his goal of becoming the first player to win both the US and Europe money-lists in the same season. At last the "Ice Man" cracked, the cool countenance of "Mr Consistency" breaking out into a plume of emotion. When the last putt fell - naturally, a third birdie in as many holes - Donald pointed his two index fingers to the sky. No 1 on both sides.
Surely, the English sporting public at large will acknowledge what it has in this unassuming character from High Wycombe. He may be quiet but, with the clubs in his hand, he has created a deafening din on the fairways. A 66-66 finish, featuring six birdies and no bogeys, was the perfect sign off to the best season of his golfing life.
Of course, in Hollywood they would have gone one step further and pictured him winning the Dubai World Championship. Yet the Donald story doesn't require any jazzing up. This is a tale of a short-hitter beating the odds and confounding expectations through force of talent and application. Donald did not take a single bogey in his last 46 holes to finish third. It's the cold facts which matter for Donald.
Still, there were the tears for the sentimentalists. Donald was asked what his father, Colin, would have said to him, had he not passed away suddenly last month. "He would have given me a hug," Donald said, the ducts inevitably filled up. "My father hopped into my head quite a few times out there. I didn't really look at a leaderboard until the 13th, but didn't see Rory's [McIlroy] name and so knew it was mine."
A few minutes later, he hugged his brother and former caddie, Christian, who told him "thanks for doing this for Dad". The Donald family have so many reasons to be proud, not least the incredible record of this 34-year-old recording 20 top-10 placings in 26 tournaments worldwide. Let them talk about the absence of a major, let them ignore the presence of so many achievements, including five titles in the last 18 months. The debate on the identity of the real world No 1 should cease.
That is Donald's wish and, at the very least, he should be granted it. It will be interesting to see how the British public reacts when it comes to vote on the Sports Personality of the Year in 10 days' time. Many more players will win majors, and you would have to be a fool or biased to believe Donald will not be one of them. But will anyone ever again complete the Transatlantic double? "I'll be trying next year,"Donald said.
If he can maintain this form and display this bottle, it is anything but a forlorn ambition. Donald came to Dubai knowing it would take a top-five position to ensure he collected the GBP950,000 ($AU1.5m) Race To Dubai bonus. And when McIlroy produced a charge in the first round, the tension took a toll on Donald. But he soaked it up, just as he had at Disney World in Florida on the final day of the US season, when six birdies in the final nine holes secured him the victory he needed. Donald truly has shown he can do it either way.
"I had so many mixed emotions," he said. "This is something I didn't think was possible but it became a possibility midway through the season. It's driven me to work hard and be as successful as I've been. Rory made it tough, but for it actually to happen is almost a weight off my shoulders. History is why we play the game and I'm very proud of it. I got what I came for."
Donald is nothing if not honest and revealed that, despite McIlroy conceding the race on Saturday evening, the butterflies were still doing their damnedest.
"I was still nervous this morning," he said. "Success breeds success and I can feed off knowing that I am able to come up with the shots when the pressure is at its most. I hope it will help me in my quest for a major. That's the one thing missing from my resumE. I've done everything but win one of the big four. I'm excited about 2012."
Quiros cannot wait to return to Dubai. In February, he won the Desert Classic and nine months later showed his fondness for the Emirate. The outrageous snaking putt on the last was a joyous finale for a Spaniard who only stops smiling to giggle. "Obviously I was lucky to hole that long putt," he said. "I love playing in Dubai, the great weather helps a lot. Long hitters like me also have an advantage here. That's why you have to take your hat off to Luke."
There were other notable performances as the Tour wrapped up its season. Paul Lawrie, the 1999 Open champion, birdied the last with a 10-foot putt which was worth GBP110,000 ($AU169,000)to the Scot, as it denied Donald a share of second place. Meanwhile, McIlroy's tie for 11th, following a 71-71 weekend, was a commendable effort by a young man clearly suffering from the after-effects of dengue fever and a brutal schedule in which he made his mark.
Next year, the Tour will return to this venue after the announcement yesterday that a new three-year contract has been signed. Donald will be back as well. You can be sure of it.