MARANA, Ariz. — Jack Nicklaus once revealed his secret formula for golfing success: “Hit more fairways, find more greens, and hole more putts.”
Genius. Luke Donald has clearly been paying attention.
“They can call me a plodder if they like,” Donald said. “But I make birdies, too. There’s more to the game than hitting it long. There’s definitely ways to make birdies other than hitting it 350 yards.”
For example, being deadly with a wedge from 90 yards and in, and having a putter that is almost too hot to handle.
“I pride myself on a good short game,” Donald said. “I work very hard at it.”
Take note, Mr. Watson and Mr. Holmes. Brains beat brawn. Little Luke shouldn’t be suited to a course that measures 7,800 yards, but he has made it to the final in the fewest number of holes in the tournament’s history.
“I can describe my week in one word,” Donald said. “Pretty dominant.”
That’s two words, but who’s counting? The only statistics that matter are 27 birdies and just four bogeys in 73 holes.
“I haven’t really missed any greens,” Donald said. “I’ve been tough to beat this week.”
Make that impossible.
“There’s no escaping Luke Donald,” said Matt Kuchar, his 6-and-5 semifinal victim. “I played decent golf, and he just tore me up.”
Donald will go head-to-head with the new No. 1 player in the world, Martin Kaymer. At stake is $1.4 million and the chance for Donald to rise to No. 3 if he wins. Europeans would fill the first four places in the world rankings, with Lee Westwood No. 2 and Graeme McDowell No. 4. The all-European final makes it five of the last six years without an American reaching the last match.
The final will be the most important day of Donald’s career since he was tied for the lead at the 2006 PGA Championship at Medinah — and in the final group with Tiger Woods. Donald cheekily wore red, Woods’s Sunday tradition, and got pummeled. Donald chuckled when he was reminded of his choice of color. There will be no red for the Match Play final.
Donald dispatched Ryan Moore and Kuchar with 13 birdies in 27 holes.
“If this were a boxing match, it would have been stopped,” said a marshal following the semifinal.
“Go easy on our boy,” yelled a Kuchar fan.
Not a chance. Donald was so tough that on the only occasion he strayed into the desert — at the 11th — even the jumping cholla cactuses got out of his way. Such has been Donald’s supremacy at Tucson, he hasn’t seen the 18th green since his one practice round last Monday.
“Hopefully I don’t get to see it again — for the right reasons,” he said, laughing.
Donald has won three stroke-play tournaments in Europe and two on the PGA Tour since turning pro 10 years ago, but he has a reputation for piling up top-10 finishes and not enough trophies for the talent he possesses. A mental weakness, say critics of the 33-year-old from High Wycombe, England, who now lives in Chicago via a degree in art theory at Northwestern.
None of which explains why, when it comes to match play, Donald is Bruce Springsteen — he’s the boss. It was no surprise that Colin Montgomerie used a captain’s pick on Donald for last year’s Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor in Wales. His Ryder Cup record is now an impressive 8-2-1. He was also a key player in Walker Cup victories for Great Britain and Ireland in 1999 and 2001.
“I’d love to play more match play, but every week would be logistically difficult,” he said with a laugh.
This week, Donald has yet to fall behind in a single hole in any match.
“It’s physically and mentally demanding,” he said.
Imagine how his opponents have been feeling. In the 18-hole final, Donald will face Ryder Cup teammate Kaymer, who ended Westwood’s 17-week reign at the summit by virtue of his semifinal victory over Watson.
“Martin is like me but hits it further,” Donald said. “He’s had a phenomenal couple of years.”
Kaymer has quietly won four of his last nine tournaments, and he can add an exclamation point to the week by winning his first World Golf Championship event. Yet NBC analyst Johnny Miller has his money on Donald, the Plodder.
“Luke’s the guy to beat,” Miller said.
Well, yes he is … if you’re name is Martin Kaymer.