Britain might have ceded the world No 1 tag to Germany yesterday, but it had so much else to celebrate at the Accenture Match Play Championship. Luke Donald enjoyed the day of sporting life here to become England's third finalist in two years. Not too shabby a return in a WGC event which boasts the 64 best players in the world.
But Lee Westwood can no longer claim to be the best of the best. His 17-week reign as golf's top dog came to an end when Martin Kaymer joined Donald in today's 18-hole shootout. The 26-year-old will become the second youngest No 1 since the rankings' inception in 1986. The first was Bernhard Langer, Kaymer's countryman. "I am very proud," Kaymer said. "But there is still a job to do here."
He appreciates it is a sizeable job, too, even for the USPGA champion who has happened to have won four of the last 10 tournaments he has played. Such is Donald's undoubted match play magnificence in the head-to-head format, his record in this has always been something a mystery. But the 33-year-old has rectified his baffling shortfall in emphatic style. Donald has not been behind in any of his five matches here this week, which says so much about the heat he has implied in the Arizona desert.
Yet if his display in the first rounds was impressive then his performance in seeing off two Americans yesterday was truly inspiring as he tried to emulate Ian Poulter's glory last year. Donald, who in six previous attempts had failed to progress past the third round, beat Ryan Moore 5&4 in the morning and then defeated Matt Kuchar 6&5 in the afternoon.
But then, this is all we should expect from this most solid of competitors who in team competitions has proved himself to be a peerless exponent of the head-to-head format. In two Walker Cups and three Ryder Cups, Donald has won 16 out of a possible 19 points. If that doesn't sound alarm bells for Kaymer then the words of Kuchar should. "You face Luke Donald when he's playing like this, you pack your bags," said Kuchar.
So much for a marathon Saturday. Donald was all finished before 3pm, after 27 holes in which he notched up 13 birdies. His opponents were clearly stunned; Moore recounting how Donald had "cruised". Indeed, he had, as even this most modest of men had to acknowledge. "I was pretty dominant today," said Donald. "Someone just told me I go to world No 3 if I win. I didn't know that. That would be amazing as it would be to win again over here. I've been playing consistently but been lacking wins. I've got a great chance tomorrow."
Donald has not won on American soil in five years. To say he is overdue a title would be one of the bigger understatements on the PGA Tour. In this barren period since the 2006 Honda Classic he has recorded 31 top 10 finishes in the US. This Chicago-based professional will be desperate to address this deficit against Kaymer. And if Donald manages it, Europe will boast the top four in the rankings for the first time in 19 years, leaving Tiger Woods in a highly unfamiliar fifth spot.
This course shouldn't really suit Donald as a short-hitter but so accurate are his irons that he has been able to negate any supposed disadvantage and made a mockery of his "Plod" nickname. "They can call me a plodder, but I can make birdies," said Donald. "It was good to get in quickly and get the extra rest."
Kaymer played eight more holes than Donald and wasn't finished until two hours later. He struggled past Miguel Angel Jimenez. He was four up with four to play, but the Spaniard struck back taking Kaymer down the 18th. The Iceman seemed rattled, but he held his nerve to produce a fine approach from the thick rough. It was a case of close and then a cigar for Jimenez, this remarkable 47-year-old.
Kaymer was then forced to wait as Bubba Watson conjured one of match-play's great fight backs. JB Holmes had built a five-hole lead by the 10th and appeared certain to advance. But with five birdies, Bubba bounced back in the battle of the big-hitters. Eventually he prevailed on the 19th. The crowd backed their man, but Kaymer pulled away late on.
So for the second time in as many years there is an all-European final. America is simply no match at the moment.Reuse content