DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The human ATM machine is about to cash in again. History beckons as Luke Donald has all but won the Race to Dubai, Europe's money list, to add to the title he has already secured on the PGA Tour. Even his nearest rival Rory McIlroy expects Donald to get the job done and be laughing all the way to the bank on Sunday.
"It's over!" McIlroy said after finishing the third round of the Dubai World Championship tied for eighth at eight under par. He is six shots behind leader Alvaro Quiros, while Donald is in third at 10 under. "I expect Luke to wrap it up," McIlroy added. "To win the money list in the States the way he did and then come here and wrap it up is a great achievement. He deserves it."
The Euro might be in crisis but not in Donald's bank account. The exchange rate will ensure his wallet will be overflowing with dollars. Forget finishing ninth (his magic number to ensure he wins the Race to Dubai even if McIlroy somehow wins), Donald has put himself in position to grab all the loot this week. That's a whopping $1.25 million for the winner of the tournament and a staggering $1.5 million bonus for finishing first over the line in the Race to Dubai. Cha-ching!
The only thing that can stop Donald winning the jackpot is a final-round score that will probably have to be in the 50s by McIlroy. There would also need to be an extraordinary series of collapses by Donald and everyone else on the leaderboard, which includes such stellar names as Quiros, Louis Oosthuizen, Francesco Molinari, Paul Casey and Paul Lawrie. There's more chance of Dubai enjoying a white Christmas. Dream on.
But Donald is the only person in Dubai not counting chickens, even though he has all but come home to roost.
"I would be foolish to expect that's it's over," he said after a bogey-free six-under-par 66. "I said from the start that I could get in trouble if I concentrate on that ninth position. At times it has been tough not to. It has almost felt like Q-school. Doing all the great work I've done this year, if I wasn't able to quite complete it, I feel like I'd walk away with missing out. If it all works out, it's a pretty amazing feat. To win both money lists is a little bit of history. Hopefully I will get that recognition."
He was getting plenty from McIlroy, who was hoping to put in one last spectacular round before taking a holiday in Dubai with his girlfriend, Caroline Wozniacki, the No. 1 tennis player in the world. But his body language suggested he was mentally almost lying on the beach sipping a cocktail. Stick a fork in McIlroy and turn him over. He's done in the desert. Barbecued. He fizzled rather than sizzled on the front nine of his third round, and McIlroy admitted that's when he knew his race was over. He dropped a shot at the third then double bogeyed the seventh after driving into a bush.
McIlroy looked exhausted, still suffering from the possible effects of dengue fever. Golf fans in Thailand will be disappointed to hear he will more than likely be flying West rather than East next week. "I'm really tired," he said. "Not feeling 100 percent. It wasn't the start that I wanted. I struggled early on. Kept hitting everything left. Don't know why."
He rallied on the back nine with four birdies, but he needed that on the front nine, too, to have any chance of winning. He knew he'd blown it. "Just couldn't do it," he said.
McIlroy's troubles began at the second tee when a marshal yelled "Quiet Please!" just as McIlroy was standing over his ball. It would have been fine — except the marshal was the only person making any noise. McIlroy stepped away to restart his pre-shot routine, while his caddie scolded the marshal. Some of them really shouldn't be allowed to be in charge of crowd control at a ghost town. McIlroy's concentration was broken. He ballooned his drive into a fairway bunkers at the par 5 then turned to give the offending marshal the death stare. Tiger Woods and Colin Montgomerie would have been proud. McIlroy was playing with English journeyman pro Robert Rock, who at times outplayed his more feted partner. McIlroy simply got stuck between a Rock and a hard pace set by Quiros.
While Donald is chasing another money title, Quiros is looking to end the season with a "Dubai Double," having won the Desert Classic in February. But Donald had a final word of warning for those who think McIlroy is done.
"Rory's produced great comebacks before," he said. "He won at Quail Hollow from a long way back." McIlroy shot a final-round 62 last year in Charlotte for his first PGA Tour victory. But back then, and at the U.S. Open in June, when he won by eight shots, he was firing on all cylinders. In Dubai, he's almost out of gas and running on fumes. But Donald is still purring along like he has all season. And the finishing line is in sight.