Luke Donald: Targeting Westwood's crown in all-English affair
In-form World No 2 is aiming to overtake his countryman this week in a format he enjoys. James Corrigan reports from the Costa del Sol
Wednesday 18 May 2011
Luke Donald says he hopes England are proud. His country should be. By rights, they should be out in force on the Costa del Sol watching their two boys fight it out for the world No 1 spot. Sombreros on, straw donkeys at the ready, we're all off to sunny Spain...
Except golf isn't like that and at this dramatic Finca Cortesin course, cut out of the side of a mountain, the pair will take centre stage at the Volvo Match Play Championship in a polite rather than raucous atmosphere. The contest will bristle, however, as for the first time in the 25-year history of the rankings, England boasts the top two in the world order.
Of course, there are 22 other professionals battling it out for the £3m-plus prize fund, which outside of The Open Championship is the biggest purse in Europe. Indeed, with only Phil Mickelson missing, this event has more of the world's top six in attendance than last week's "fifth major" at Sawgrass. But with Westwood having won his last two tournaments and with Donald having finished fourth at The Players on Sunday making it 12 top 10 finishes from his last 13, the prospective protagonists are obvious. As the world No 3, Martin Kaymer, confirmed yesterday.
"The perfect golf player at the moment would have the long game of Lee Westwood and the short game of Luke Donald," said the German.
A little later, when told about Kaymer's comments, Donald said: "I don't know about that, I'm hitting it pretty good off the tee right now." The 33-year-old was joking. "Yeah, Lee has excelled in his long game," he added. "He's extremely solid. And I've had to be good with my short game in recent years as my long game wasn't where it needed to be. So me and Lee would be a good combination. We kind of showed that in the Ryder Cup."
Tiger Woods could testify to that; he and Steve Stricker being on the end of a 6&5 foursomes embarrassment at Celtic Manor. They were not the first to feel the force of Donald's match-play excellence and Tucson confirmed in February they were certainly not the last. At the other World Match Play, Donald was supremely impressive en route to accounting for Kaymer in the final. On the back of a startling Walker Cup and Ryder Cup record (losing just three out of 19 matches), to many the WGC crown established Donald as the game's premier component of the head-to-head format. On that basis, what a chance he has here of replacing Westwood as No 1.
"My record in match play speaks for itself," said Donald. "I like the challenge of one-against-one and like the fact you can be a little bit more aggressive. I have a lot of confidence."
That is hardly surprising given his staggering run. "The fact I'm grinding out these top 10s week-in, week-out means I'm getting to the point where I kind of expect to keep doing it," he said. "It's a good place to be. But I'll be the first to say that over the last six months I should have turned one or two of those top 10s into wins. Yet if you don't give yourself any chances you're not going to have any chance."
It is hard to argue with that logic. What did baffle yesterday was the decision of Kaymer to dispense with the services of his Scottish caddie, Craig Connelly. In less than a year the pair have won four times, including a major and the Order of Merit, amassed more than £5m in the process – and become world No 1.
"We had a fantastic year together," said Kaymer. So why inform Connelly he was no longer required immediately after The Players, with a two-week stretch looming in Europe? However Kaymer tried to couch it in "mutual consent" terminology the scenario begged to differ, as, of course, does the fact that no caddie worthy of his 10 per cent would not want to work with a cash-machine such as the 26-year-old.
Bizarrely, Connelly actually flew over from Florida on the same private charter as Kaymer on Sunday night – and yesterday morning flew from Spain to Scotland. So instead, in a week where he could also usurp Westwood, Kaymer will have his younger brother, Philip, on his bag. After that? "We will see what happens at Wentworth next week; if I can find somebody. But if not, I'm sure I'll find someone by the US Open," he said.
The queue of candidates will be lengthy, although maybe as Kaymer tinkers with his swing and his form flattens out the focus should be on the two golfers ranked above him. England's finest no less. "Europe is enjoying a great period, very similar to the generation back in the Nineties," said Donald. "It's a great time, particularly for English golf, with the world Nos 1 and 2. I hope England is proud."
They are, Luke. Just not quite proud enough to empty Torremolinos.
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