English golf awoke this morning in dreamland. A week after throwing away the BMW PGA Championship, Luke Donald prevailed in the Madrid Masters to break back into the top 10. It means that there are four Englishmen in the top nine of the world; an astonishing representation, particularly when one considers that just a decade ago Lee Westwood was the only Englishman in the top 100.
But although this means so much to his country, this was essentially a personal milestone for Donald. In seeing off the Welsh rookie Rhys Davies, he delivered a well-timed retort to all those critics who said he had forgotten how to win. He held his cool to claim his first victory for four years and his first in Europe in six years. And in doing so, Donald went a long way to buttoning down his Ryder Cup spot, rising to fourth in the points race.
In fact, there was good news everywhere the 32-year-old looked. What a difference seven days can make in this fickle sport. At Wentworth, Donald blew the European Tour's flagship event by taking a double-bogey seven on the penultimate hole. This time around he grabbed a brilliant eagle to settle his duel with the ever more impressive Davies.
Level with three to play, Donald hit a 252-yard fairway wood to 12 feet on the long 16th and with his third eagle of the week – "It's because I'm a big hitter," he joked – struck the decisive blow. Davies, already a winner in this, his first full season on the European Tour, birdied the hole and still had a chance to force sudden death, but his 20-foot effort on the last was never on the right line.
The last time Donald had tasted success was at the Honda Classic in America in March 2006. His nerveless 67 helped to a 21-under par total of 267, which earned him £215,000. Yet he said: "The money is secondary. It's been a while since I won and to put last week behind me makes me very proud. The way I played today means a lot to me. The eagle was huge because Rhys put a lot of pressure on me. It's happiness and relief – definitely some relief."
It isn't his style, but Donald would have been forgiven for aiming a huge raspberry at his doubters. After last year's Open, where he finished fifth, an American writer coined the term "Luke Donald disease", pointing to him as the perfect example of a bunch of British players who earn a lot but do not win very often. "It was a bad article – it's wrong," commented Donald. "I don't listen to my critics too much, but it was frustrating for myself not having won for four years."
He can now point to the fact that England has as many players in the top 10 – himself, Westwood, Ian Poulter and Paul Casey – as America does. And there also happens to be Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy in there too.
Davies, 25 last Friday, would have leapt into the top 50 with victory, but he is climbing fast and he will hope to go one better at this coming week's Wales Open at Celtic Manor, where Donald also appears. "I didn't make a bogey in the final group in a big tournament," Davies said. "It didn't quite come off, but I've lots to be pleased about.
Meanwhile, there was yet more for English golf fans to cheer on last night. Brian Davis went into the final round of the Crowne Plaza Invitational at the Colonial in Texas tied for the lead with Bryce Molder. Many in the US were also rooting for the 35-year-old Londoner.
Six weeks ago, Davis called a penalty on himself when contesting a play-off with Jim Furyk in the Heritage tournament in South Carolina. In that moment of honesty – which cost him the chance of a $1m (£650,000) cheque – Davis became a hero. After six barren years on the PGA Tour could this proven European Tour winner finally end the drought? Donald had provided the inspiration.Reuse content