DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- To Alvaro Quiros, the tournament. To Luke Donald, the world.
It was a Dubai Double for Quiros, who added a victory on Sunday at the Dubai World Championship to his title at the Desert Classic in February. But it was a history-making Money Double for Donald, who has become the first player to win the money list in Europe and the United States in the same season.
Quiros rolled in a 40-foot eagle putt to seal victory while Donald birdied the last three holes to finish in third place, three shots behind at 16 under par. Paul Lawrie was runner-up at 17 under.
All that’s left for Donald now is that missing major. It’s at the top of his priority list for 2012.
“Just being No.1 brings more expectations from everyone and from myself,” he said. “One of those is to be more consistent in the majors and hopefully win one. If I had to pick one that I was a favorite in, it would be the Masters, but I would love to win the [British] Open too, because it is my home major.”
With his confidence growing after his stellar season and extended run as the world’s No. 1 golfer, it’s no surprise to learn that Donald has a more lofty ambition than merely winning one major.
“I’d love to win the Grand Slam in one calendar year,” he said. “No one’s done it. That would be my ultimate goal.”
Right now, you wouldn’t bet against him pulling off that stunt. What a year it has been for the 34-year-old Englishman from High Wycombe, who now lives in Chicago. A roll call of his achievements: No. 1 player in the world, four worldwide victories, 19 top 10s in 25 starts, and the now the money-list double.
“I was very nervous,” Donald admitted before setting off in his quest to hold off Rory McIlroy in the Race to Dubai, Europe’s money title. He needn’t have worried. McIlroy faded, finishing tied for 11th at nine under, while Donald also had allies on the leaderboard to ensure the Northern Irishman couldn’t achieve the victory he needed to take the bonus-pool cash.
“I looked at the leaderboard for the first time on 13,” Donald said. “And I didn’t see Rory’s name, and I saw that the leaders were all playing well. That was the point I knew I had won the double and was No. 1 in Europe, too. The last six holes were surreal. All the pressure went away and I was able to cruise home.”
All through his career, Donald has had to swim against the tide, a short-hitter in a bombers’ game. All through his career he has had to battle for results, respect and recognition. The results and statistics don’t lie. Donald is the most consistent player in the game, knocking out top-class performances with metronomic magnificence. He has dominated in a sport where it is often thought that the long ball is king.
“There is more to this game than hitting it far,” he said, perhaps implying that a short game touched by genius and a putter that rarely misses when the pressure is on can also be valuable. “I think people are taking notice of what I’ve done and how I’ve done it. And they will maybe change the way they practice.”
That message goes out to hackers and professionals alike.
Respect for Donald is undisputed from his peers and spectators. “Luuuuuuke” is now an oft-heard chant from galleries all around the world. Yet he still feels he does not receive the recognition he deserves. The reason is all down to that missing major and, to a lesser extent, his undemonstrative, soft-spoken demeanor. He plans to rectify the former, but his critics will just have to learn to live with the latter. It’s what makes Donald an approachable, accommodating gentleman. However, he’s not immune to criticism. “Luke Donald Disease” was once a jibe aimed at him for his failure to turn top 10s into victories, and Donald admits the phrase stung.
“That upset me,” Donald told Golf Magazine earlier this year. “Fair enough if you want to criticize that I haven’t won enough. I’m the first to criticize myself. But to say it’s down to not having the desire or work ethic, that I’m someone who’s happy to pick up checks but who doesn’t really care about winning, is ridiculous.”
Donald’s peers will now line up in hopes of catching a heavy dose of Luke Donald Disease.
“Luke deserves everything he’s got,” said McIlroy, before heading off for a holiday in Dubai with his girlfriend, pro tennis No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki. He confirmed that he would not be playing in Thailand next week, so the next time he tees it up in competitive golf will be at the Abu Dhabi Championship at the end of January. Tiger Woods will also be there to pit his game against Donald, McIlroy and the cream of Europe’s golfers.
“Every time Luke tees it up, he has a chance to win,” McIlroy said. “You have to be mentally so good to grind out that level of consistency.”
Quiros, too, praised the machine-like brilliance of Donald after holding him off to win in Dubai.
“I looked at the leaderboard and saw he was making a charge and thought, ‘You can never leave this guy behind. He always comes back at you,’” Quiros said. “He must feel so good under pressure.”
Earlier in the week, Donald admitted that he felt pressure trying to be the first player to win both official money-list titles. On Sunday, he reflected on his accomplishment.
“Making history. That’s why we play the game,” he said on Sunday. “To win and do something no one has ever done before, I’m very proud of that.”