VIRGINIA WATER, England -- It was like watching Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. Except this time there was only one machine. Luke Donald was relentless, ruthless, unstoppable, invincible, ice cool in the Wentworth heat wave.
But Donald admitted he feels nerves like anyone else. It’s just he’s better at hiding it than most. He’s a duck on the water. A Donald duck, if you like. “I felt some tension out there,” he said. “There are ups and downs. You would be lying if you said you didn’t feel the pressure and feel some doubt over some shots.”
He wouldn’t be human if he felt like that. He would be a machine. But that’s what he plays like. And he’s been working on his aura with his coach Dave Alred. “It’s helped me be aware of my posture and how I project that feeling of positiveness,” Donald said. “It sends a message to whoever I’m playing with.”
They’ve got the message. Donald is back to No. 1 (Rory McIlroy missed the cut on Friday) and collected the first prize of $950,000. It’s the fourth time in a year he has scaled the summit and his winning total of 15 under par, after a final round 68, makes him only the third player to retain his PGA Championship title here following in the spike marks of Nick Faldo in 1981 and Colin Montgomerie in 2000. Exalted company, indeed.
Donald’s nearest rival, Rose, actually drew level at the fourth hole with a birdie as Donald made a rare bogey. “Game on,” said a young female in the packed gallery.
But three holes later, it was pretty much game over. Donald merely dragged himself up off the floor, pared the fifth, then birdied the sixth and seventh. Whatever Rose shot at him, Donald just ran straight through him. Donald is so in control of his emotions, it’s impossible to tell whether he has dropped a shot or gained one. He has the perfect poker face if this golf lark doesn’t work out.
Not so Rose -- not today, anyway. He got so angry at the par-3 fifth at the sight of his ball scooting through the back of the green that he yanked his tee peg out of the ground and chucked it with at an advertising board behind the green. He stormed off the tee then stopped, turned around, and waited for his caddie. The look on Rose’s face suggested that his caddie was about to suffer a fate only slightly less terminal than the hog being roasted in the picnic area next to the hole. Rose saved par but his pent-up tension was clear for all to see. And Rose is a top-10 player and WGC-Cadillac Championship winner. That’s the pressure of playing against Donald, the machine.
“Mentally, the way he puts a bad shot behind him is so impressive,” Rose said. “It’s unbelievable the amount of times he birdies the next hole after a bogey. He’s got a lot of patience and belief in his putter. You can learn from how he goes about his game. He’s the best.”
If further proof of this were needed, take the fourth hole, the only blemish on a sublime performance from Donald. He took four to get down from 30 yards and bogeyed the par 5. The owner of the finest short game in golf first duffed a wedge, then three-putted. Those that witnessed it have a collectors’ item in their memory banks. There were oohs and aahs from crowd. There was merely a ho and a hum from Donald. And just as Rose had said, after the bogey came the gold rush of a par and back-to-back birdies.
The greens were much more receptive in the final round than on Saturday. The greens staff had clearly been sent out to soak them all night after Ernie Els’ F-bomb tirade. European Tour chief executive George O’Grady said Els apologized for his “intemperate language” and made a “substantial donation to the tour’s benevolent trust,” which is corporate speak for swear box.
Rose looked like he could have made his own contribution after lipping out a five-footer at the last, which cost him second place outright. But he handled his frustration with customary grace, praised Donald and looked ahead with confidence to the big events coming up.
“It’s tough to play against a guy when he’s holing bombs,” Rose said. “He’s certainly very comfortable within himself. He doesn’t give much away. In key moments he holes putts with authority. I feel like I’m waiting for a spark.”
Rose added: “It’s close. I’ve definitely got one eye on the FedEx Cup and one eye on the Race to Dubai. And another eye on the Ryder Cup and the majors.”
Donald returned the compliment to Rose. “We would make a great Ryder Cup partnership,” he said. “Justin has the game for a U.S. Open. I see a lot of great things coming from him.”
But not this week. After Donald birdied the 10th and 12th, the final round became a victory parade, his own personal coronation -- beating the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee by a week. One fan near the 18th green sported a t-shirt with the slogan, “Luke for King.” Elizabeth may need to have him locked up in the Tower of London. Recruiting henchmen wouldn’t be a problem. Rose and Paul Lawrie, who tied for second, and Rory McIlroy, who missed the cut, would be the first volunteers.
It seems like the only way to stop Donald at the moment.