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Luke Donald had cultivated the reputation of a British Adam Scott — an insanely talented underachiever content to cash the big checks and live the lifestyle but failing when it mattered most. Turns out that Donald is more driven than we realized.
Four-plus years after melting down in the presence of Tiger Woods to lose the PGA Championship at Medinah and five years after his most recent win on U.S. soil, Donald used five grueling days in the Arizona desert to elbow his way into the conversation for best player in the world. The Accenture Match Play Championship was a five-day coronation for the newly minted World No. 3, who never trailed in a match and never even had to play the 18th hole at Dove Mountain.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve won in the U.S.,” said an elated Donald. “To come here and beat the Top 63 players, I guess, in the world, is very gratifying. It’s been an amazing week. I had a lot of good things happen, made a bunch of birdies, never trailed in a match. Kind of one of those weeks where a lot of things went my way.
“Whether I deserve No. 3 in the world, I don’t know. But certainly in terms of my work ethic and wanting it, then I do deserve it.”
Contrary to his reputation as a contented also-ran, Donald chafed under the burden of his U.S. winless streak.
“It certainly bothered me,” he said. “My goal every year is to win, win tournaments. It’s a long time since I’ve tried to play for money, you know. My first couple of years, maybe, as a rookie, you know, you think about making your Tour card and making cuts and making enough money to play the next year. But it’s been a long time since that.
“I solely focus on trying to win tournaments. I felt like I hadn’t won my fair share for as good a player as I felt I was and could be. It was disappointing, yeah. It was frustrating to me.
“But to come here and compete against the best players in the world and win the trophy is very gratifying.”
Donald’s victim in the finals, new World No. 1 Martin Kaymer, cited his opponent’s otherworldly short game as being the decisive factor in their match, won by Donald 3&2.
“I think he’s definitely one of the most consistent players on the Tour,” Kaymer said. “And I think he’s probably the best in the world in the short game at the moment. I played with Phil Mickelson a few times and it is unbelievable. But what Luke is doing at the moment is a joke, you know. Wherever he is, you know that he will make the up-and-down if he doesn’t hole it. And it was impressive.”
Now, for the first time since 1992, the top four spots in the World Golf Rankings are held by Europeans — Kaymer, Lee Westwood, Donald and Graeme McDowell.
“It’s fantastic to have four Europeans up there,” Kaymer said. “It was always Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson and now there are four Europeans up there, so it’s good.”
The news isn’t all bad for American golf. Tiger and Phil sit at 5 and 6 in the world, and a good Masters gets them back in the hunt for the top spot in the suddenly fluid rankings. And then there’s the newest star in the American galaxy, one Gerry “Bubba” Watson, who lost his consolation match to Matt Kuchar to finish fourth but won many hearts with his valiant effort in the semis against Kaymer, where he lost 1-up despite a world-class birdie at 17, and his epic comeback in the quarters, where he rallied from five down with eight holes to play to beat J.B. Holmes. Bubba’s assessment? “It showed that I can play golf.”