World Number One Luke Donald began the week at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship the way he ended last year’s event, by getting his hands on a trophy….and not just one.
The 35 year old Englishman not only finished 2011 as winner of The Race to Dubai, he also dominated the US PGA Tour as well. Therefore, before events got underway at The Ritz Carlton Golf Club in Arizona, his achievements in all those realms were recognised.
European Ryder Cup Director Richard Hills presented Donald with the Mark H McCormack Award, given to the player who topped the Official World Golf Ranking for the longest time in 2011. Although fellow European Tour Members Martin Kaymer and Lee Westwood also occupied the number one slot for various spells during the year, Donald was the overwhelming winner having ascended to the top after his victory in the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth Club in May and staying there for the rest of the year.
As the award was only instigated in 1998, Donald became only the second player after Tiger Woods to be given the accolade.
In addition to the Mark H McCormack Award, Donald was presented with the 2011 Jack Nicklaus Award (PGA Tour Player of the Year), the 2011 Byron Nelson Award (for topping the PGA Tour Stroke Average) and the 2011 Arnold Palmer Award (for topping the PGA Tour Money List). All three trophies were presented to the Englishman by PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem.
Before receiving the awards, Donald turned his thoughts to the defence of his Accenture Match Play crown and, understandably he was in confident mood, returning to the scene of one of his greatest triumphs.
Both Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood could replace Donald as World Number One this week should the latter suffer an early exit. However, the current top ranked player is optimistic he can mount a strong defence of his title in Arizona.
“I have a lot of great memories here from last year and I gained a lot of confidence from my win and how I went about winning it,” he said. “I’m excited to be back. I’ve always enjoyed the challenge of match play. I’ve enjoyed the fact that it’s helpful to be consistent, to not lose holes carelessly. For whatever reason the format seems to suit my game, and hopefully I can have another good week.”
Donald made no attempt to play down the significance of his triumph at this venue 12 months ago, which came courtesy of a 3 and 2 victory over Martin Kaymer in the final. “It’s probably the most important one (in my career),” he added.
“I think without winning here that maybe some of the other wins wouldn’t have been possible. It really restored some of my confidence in myself and proved to myself that I could win again.”
And after taking over as World Number One by winning the BMW PGA Championship last May, Donald admitted he is proud to have remained at the summit ever since.
“I've got a lot of great players on my heels,” he said. “It takes a lot of consistency to get there but it takes an equal amount of consistency to stay there. It’s something I am proud of. But it doesn't really change how I prepare and how I work, that remains the same.”
If he is to enjoy further success this week, Donald must first make it past a vastly experienced rival in his opening match.
In addition to winning three Major Championships, South African Ernie Els has also claimed the World Match Play Championship at Wentworth Club on a record seven occasions.
Referring to Els’ number 64 seeding this week, Donald said: “As the number one seed, you probably wouldn’t have picked Ernie to be in that position. “Usually in that first round match maybe you get someone with a little less experience that might have snuck his way into the tournament and never played the event before.
“But obviously Ernie has a huge amount of experience. He's won multiple World Match Plays and certainly to start off he's going to be a tough one to try and beat.”