What a way to win the world No 1 tag – and what a way to lose it. As Luke Donald was celebrating victory in the BMW PGA Championship here yesterday and topping the order for the first time, Lee Westwood was coming to terms with his shot into the water on the first sudden-death hole which handed his countryman everything. Two Englishmen, two wildly contrasting emotions.
For Donald, joy hardly began to describe his first stroke-play tournament victory in almost a year and just his second in five years. This was the one he wanted. "Becoming No 1 is something you always dream about and you never know if you're going to get there," said the 33-year-old, after receiving his cheque for £655,000. "It's taken a lot of hard work, a lot of courage and a lot of ups and downs."
Who can possibly deny him the honour? Nobody who has checked the recent formbook, that's for sure. This was Donald's 14th top 10 finish in the last 15 events and, in this staggering six-month period, he has now collected two of the game's biggest trophies, having lifted the Accenture Match Play Championship in February. Donald has often been accused of not winning enough and has admitted as much himself. Now there is coveted silverware to put alongside the greenback.
Yes, there was redemption everywhere he looked in Surrey for Donald. It was in this event last year when he double-bogeyed the 17th and so gave th e title to Simon Khan. He can forget that now. "When they announced the runner-up prize I almost took a step forward," said Donald, who is the fourth Briton to become No 1. "It feels great to win an event with one of the strongest fields all year, with the four major winners here and six of the world's top 10. This has been a special week and a special day."
Donald was right on that score. Could anybody have asked for more? Certainly not the Tour, the sponsors, or the huge crowd which made it seem absurd that, barring the Open, this is the only top-rank event to be held in England all year. But, most of all neither could British golf. Here they were, the top two players in the world, playing in sudden death with the world No 1 tag up for grabs. And not only that but they were both English and they were playing on English soil. To those who remember the end of the last century, when England had one member of the world's top 100, this verged on being a surreal scenario.
The last three holes in regulation were raw tension. After conjuring his fifth birdie of the round on the par four 15th – when curling in a sublime approach from the rough to four feet – Westwood strode two ahead and seemingly on his way to his third stroke-play win in succession. Donald, meanwhile, was not looking so nearly assured, beginning with two bogeys and picking up birdies on the par-five fourth and the par-three 10th. It was neat, but suddenly the 64 which made him "feel invincible" on the Thursday seemed a long time away.
The 16th changed everything. Westwood drove on to the edge of a bunker, contrived to bogey the 384-yarder and, as soon as he left the green, Donald fired his approach to within 18 inches of the cup. All square. And so they remained, as both missed chances on the final two holes. Donald could not believe his 15-footer on the 17th managed to stay above ground after horse-shoeing the hole, while Westwood's effort from six feet on the 18th was tame. Then Donald had a 30 footer to birdie and win, but his lag was never in and he signed for a 70. Back to the 18th tee walked the two home heroes.
Both laid up in two, Donald struck a wedge to eight feet and all the pressure was on Westwood. His wedge span from behind the hole and continued its roll towards the stream on the left of the green. The galleries gasped and Westwood's head dropped. It was over. The tournament and his latest reign as No 1. The cruellest of double-whammies made only easier to stomach because of his continued good form.
In all this drama, it was all too simple to overlook those under the first two rungs on the scoreboard. Making it an English one-two-three came Simon Dyson on four-under, while recording his first top 10 in three years was the 47-year-old Colin Montgomerie, following a 68. There were stories all around this privileged estate.
And back in the clubhouse last night, Ernie Els wore a Cheshire cat grin. On Friday, Ian Poulter delivered a scathing attack of Els' £6,5m revamp of the West Course, calling it "unfair" and saying it had taken away all the fun. Els yesterday accused Poulter of doing "a lot of damage" to the Tour's flagship event.
"It was difficult not to take it personally," said Els. "A guy double-bogeys the last and then blames the course for his bad shots. I don't take that lightly. We'll have a word when it's suitable. He's done a lot of damage to the flagship event. He's a Ryder Cup player, and to come out with things like that is uncalled for."
Els needed only to point a finger at the leaderboard. "In majors, the cream rises to the top and that's what's happened here," said the South African. "To see the two best players in the world slug it out at the flagship event, our home on Tour, is something very special. Very special indeed."Reuse content