Luke Donald can dare to dream once more. What had appeared as an improbable assignment on Saturday night became a distinctly feasible prospect 24 hours later.
Never was a tournament more appositely named than the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Classic as the World Number One found the inspiration and resolve to cling on to his ambition of becoming the first man ever to top the money lists on both The European Tour and the US PGA Tour. A miracle indeed.
Donald converted a five stroke deficit after 54 holes into an unlikely two shot win in Florida to secure the stateside portion of his ‘double’ bid. Now The Race to Dubai crown awaits the accomplished Englishman who has captured a pair of titles on each side of the Atlantic in 2011.
Donald edged out American Webb Simpson by just over $300,000 to claim the top spot in the US PGA Tour’s money list and with it the Arnold Palmer Trophy, while in Europe he currently leads The Race to Dubai by €1,300,000 from Rory McIlroy.
And Donald, by nature a man of few words, gave a simple mission statement: “It would mean a big deal to win both money lists.”
Clearly, it’s ‘game on’ for Donald now that one substantial cheque has been pocketed, but with the Englishman’s wife, Diane, due to give birth in the coming weeks and with seven events remaining and plenty of prize money still on offer, including around an €800,000 first prize at the lucrative WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai, Donald still faces a stiff challenge to hold onto his status as the current European Number One and with it capture the historic money list double-header come December.
Never before has a player managed such a feat, with South Africa’s Ernie Els coming the closest seven years ago in 2004.
In that year, Els won The European Tour’s Order of Merit with €4,061,905 from compatriot Retief Goosen, while across the Atlantic he finished second in the PGA Tour’s money list to Fiji’s Vijay Singh, who had amassed an incredible $10,905,166 after nine victories in the season.
Els himself had a treble of US successes that year but still fell over $5,000,000 short of Singh’s enormous 2004 total.
But Donald has given himself an excellent chance at etching his name into the record books, despite going into yesterday’s final round in America tied for 14th and five shots off the lead, and he revealed that on Saturday evening his stand-in caddie Gareth Lord had afforded him words of encouragement.
Donald said: “Lordy, my caddie this week, texted me last night. He said, ‘It’s not over yet, we still haven’t got on a run.’
“I had made a couple of birdies here and there, but had never really gotten a streak of some real momentum building.”
And so it proved, as in Sunday’s final round, Donald birdied six holes in a row from the tenth through to the 15th, shooting a seven under par 64 and taking the title by two shots.
Ever since the extraordinary accomplishment became a possibility, Donald has appeared incredibly determined, entering the Disney-based event only after seeing his rival, Simpson, play the McGladrey Classic the week before, usurping him at the apex of American golf in the process, and the Hemel Hempstead born man knew he had to, at worst, tie for second for a chance at keeping his dual money list dream alive.
And Donald, who is currently only enlisted to play at the WGC-HSBC Champions and the Dubai World Championship in December, has not ruled out making additions to his European Tour schedule should one of his closest competitors close the gap in his absence.
If Diane Donald’s labour happens to rule her husband out of the final World Golf Championship of the year and Northern Irishman McIlroy went to win in Shanghai, then the 2011 US Open Champion would sit only half a million Euros shy of Donald with the big-money season finale to go.
Donald has suggested a late entry into the UBS Hong Kong Open is not out of the realms of possibility if necessary so only time, and the performances of Messrs McIlroy, Schwartzel, Kaymer and Westwood over the coming weeks, will tell whether Donald will be forced to make additions to his calendar to secure his dream double.
And with that abundance of world-class talent nipping at his coattails and hungry for a financially rewarding finish to the year, Donald won’t be getting complacent just yet.
One thing evident time and again this year, however, is Donald’s steely resolve and work ethic, and when his stunning four-victory 2011 does finally come to an end, regardless of whether he achieves his transatlantic aspirations or not, Donald will still vie to improve his game further, a fact that must strike chills into those trying to keep up.
“I’m very excited about my golf,” he said. “There have been times where I felt like I’ve finished runner-up, second, third, fourth, and I really haven’t had my best golf by far.
“But I have been able to find a way to win. I’m very excited about next year and even this off-season about trying to improve. There are certain parts of my game that definitely need some improvement and hopefully that will lead to even more wins and more tournament victories.”