Rory McIlroy saluted Luke Donald's "phenomenal year" and, ahead of this week's UBS Hong Kong Open, admitted he needs to emulate the Englishman's achievements if he is to capture his world number one crown.
Donald's remarkable season has brought four wins, including the WGC Accenture Match Play Championship, and the US Money Title while the 33-year-old is on course to win The Race To Dubai as he attempts to become the first man to top money lists on both sides of the Atlantic in the same season.
Last Sunday marked six months at the pinnacle of the world game for Donald and McIlroy was full of praise for his rival, but is keen to overhaul him next year.
"It's been incredible, he's earned over 150 world ranking points more than anyone else, he's won four tournaments over the world, he's won the money list in America, it looks like he's going to win the money list in Europe as well, he's had a phenomenal year," said the Northern Irishman.
"He is deservedly the number one player in the world, he's been the most consistent performer over the past 12 to 18 months.
"That's the sort of level of golf I'll need to play to overtake him and try and get the number one spot. My goal this year was to try and consolidate myself in the top five in the world and I moved up to two, which is a great achievement.
"If I can get a little bit closer to that number one spot by the end of 2011, try and play well at the start of 2012 and try and get to the number one spot, of course it's a big ambition for me. Being so close, it would be great to take that next step."
McIlroy is determined to win this week’s US$2.75 million UBS Hong Kong Open after several agonising close calls.
The reigning US Open champion lost in a play-off to Chinese Taipei’s Lin Wen-tang in 2008 and finished second behind Frenchman Gregory Bourdy in the following year. Last season, the swashbuckling Ulsterman contended for the title at the Hong Kong Golf Club in Fanling before finishing sixth.
McIlroy, who went on a promotional boat ride in the Hong Kong harbour along with title holder Ian Poulter, Justin Rose, YE Yang, Padraig Harrington and local amateur Justin Hak, said:
“You know, I've come close a couple of times. I was probably involved, for me, one of the best experiences I've ever had on a golf course here in 2008 in the play-off with Lin Wen-tang.
“Hong Kong is a tournament for me that is one of the first on my schedule every year. I absolutely love this place. I've loved it from the moment I got here in 2005 I think when I played the Faldo Series at Fanling and I've come back every year since. It's one of my favourite places in the world, and I'm really going to enjoy myself this week.”
The 22-year-old has enjoyed a magical ride in 2011, capped by a first Major title in June which came two months after a final day meltdown at the Masters Tournament. His ability to bounce back from his Masters heartbreak spoke volumes of his immense talent and determination to rise to the top of the world rankings where he is now ranked only behind Luke Donald of England.
“It's been an interesting year for me to say the least, from having a great chance at the start of the year at Augusta to win my first Major, and obviously not quite getting it done there. I learned a lot about myself and a lot about what I actually needed to do to become a Major champion, and I feel like I've put a lot of that experience into practice at the U.S. Open and it was great for me just to have the opportunity to prove myself at that tournament two months after what happened at Augusta.
“I've played very, very well this year. Climbing to No. 2 in the World Rankings feels like a big achievement for me, and it would be great to finish off the season well with a good result here. I would love to have the chance to win here; it's a tournament that I've wanted to win for the past number of years and haven't quite been able to do it. It's been a great year. There's been a few changes on the golf course, off the golf course, and I've enjoyed every minute of it.”