ST ANDREWS, Scotland — After the bumper $10 million bonus paid out to Bill Haas last Sunday, it’s all about euros again this week as the Dunhill Links Championship takes center stage at the storied links of St Andrews, Carnoustie and Kingsbarns.
World No. 1 Luke Donald continues his quest to become the first player to lead the money list on both the European Tour and the PGA Tour. His stellar season of two victories and a stack of top 10s that would make Madonna proud means Donald has pretty much won the Race to Dubai — or the Race to the Bank as some call it. He has banked 3.8 million euros ($5.1 million) which sees him 1.6 million euros ($2.2 million) ahead of nearest rival Rory McIlroy with the season-ending Dubai World Championship just two months away. His lead on the PGA Tour is much more precarious. He is just $68,971 ahead of Webb Simpson.
“You always try to achieve things nobody has ever done,” he said. “It will be pretty special. It’s not easy to play on both tours. You spread yourself a little bit thinly.”
Donald said he doesn’t plan to play any more events on the PGA Tour this year, but he might change his mind if Simpson goes on a dollar run in the Fall Series.
“Maybe I’ll be tempted,” Donald said. “I could play Disney. Take my daughter to Disney World. I don’t know how important it is to Webb, but for someone who this time last year was struggling to keep his card that might be very appealing.”
McIlroy was doing his best to convince himself that he still has a chance to catch and pass Donald as they sprint down the final stretch. However, his grin suggested he is more likely to be lapped.
“It seems like every time Luke tees it up, he finishes top five and if he does that he’s going to be very difficult to beat,” McIlroy said. “Obviously I want to try to get closer to him and put a bit of pressure on him with a couple of events to go. I still think it’s possible. I have to think it’s possible.”
All things seem to be possible for McIlroy these days. Including dating Caroline Wozniacki, the World No. 1 in women’s tennis. But since his celebrity status went interstellar after his sensational victory at the U.S. Open in June, some old St Andrews traditions are no longer possible. This time last year, McIlroy went pretty much unnoticed as he sipped on a beer in a local pub watching his beloved Manchester United on TV. This year, he has confined himself to barracks — albeit the luxury of his suite at the Old Course Hotel.
“I’ll go out to dinner with my mum and dad in town but I won’t go into any of the pubs,” he said, adding that he doesn’t go out anymore when he’s at home in Northern Ireland either.
That’s the price of fame for world-beating sports stars. The old lifestyle is inevitably left behind.
“I don’t mind,” McIlroy said. “It’s great that people want to come up and talk to you and have pictures but sometimes you just want to keep it low-key and keep yourself to yourself.”
So while his father Gerry (a Manchester City supporter) was in a St. Andrews pub on Tuesday night watching Manchester United, Rory was stuck in his room and forced to watch Manchester City because his television didn’t have the right channel for the United game. A prisoner of his own success.
Had he ventured into the hotel’s bar overlooking the 17th green, he would have found suitable A-list celebrity company. The Dunhill Links Championship is Europe’s version of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. It even feels like California in Fife this week as the temperature has hit 70 degrees. The amateurs here include Michael Douglas (who partners with Colin Montgomerie), Hugh Grant (David Howell), Huey Lewis (Simon Dyson) and Andy Garcia (Pablo Larrazabal). Five of the world’s top six have jetted into town, only world No. 4 Steve Stricker is missing from that group of Donald, Lee Westwood, McIlroy, Dustin Johnson and Martin Kaymer.
Johnson is making his debut in the tournament with his brother, Austin, as caddie. He turned down requests for a press conference and thus avoided questions about how he lost his caddie, Joe LaCava, to Tiger Woods. Johnson showed his class on the links of Royal St George’s finishing runner-up to Darren Clarke at the British Open in July, and such form will take his name to the top of the leaderboard again. A press conference, then, would be tougher to avoid than a double-bogey at Carnoustie.