From Plod to God as Donald defeats Kaymer in the desert
The unusual sight of snow in the Arizona desert yesterday gave way to the rather more familiar spectacle of an Englishman winning the Accenture Match Play Championship. Luke Donald retained this prestigious trophy for his country, moving up to world No 3 in the process.
The identity of the defeated only served to make Donald's victory that much more impressive. When the rankings are published this morning, Martin Kaymer will be crowned No 1, taking the tag from Lee Westwood. The German may be the world's best, but he wasn't the week's best. That honour belonged to Donald, who with a 3&2 triumph collected his first WGC title and a cheque for nearly £900,000.
The 33-year-old's brilliance in south Arizona is probably best summed up by the fact he did not have to visit the 18th all week. No one was his match, or even gave him much of a match. "This is amazing, I've got a monkey off my back after not winning over here for five years," said Donald. "It takes a lot of sweat and tears to get here. Congratulations to Martin for becoming No 1. But that makes this victory even sweeter."
Yet this was not merely a personal success, however much Donald deserved his first win in America since the 2006 Honda Classic, after so many seasons of supreme consistency. Europe can boast the top four players in the world (Graeme McDowell consigning Tiger Woods to fifth). They haven't been able to say that since 1992 when the famous quartet of Woosnam, Faldo, Olazabal and Ballesteros ruled the order. Who now doubts this is a golden age?
So much for the nickname "Plod" and so much for the theory Donald was not a big enough hitter to prevail around this 7,800-yard monster. Despite the snow-storm that saturated the layout and made the test even longer, Donald's peerless short-game saw him through. It did so all week in a performance unrivalled in the 12-year history of the event. Nobody had ever taken so few holes to reach the final and the statistics showed Donald was worthy of his quick shifts. He posted 27 birdies in 73 holes (soon to become 32 birdies in 89 holes) and arrived on the first tee here yesterday so clearly the form player.
When he moved three ahead after five holes, the victory seemed assured. A 12-footer on the second set him on a by-now-customary way. Donald refused to allow the cold conditions or a bizarre 10-minute break for hail to put him off his stride. But then he missed the sixth green, his renowned chipping game let him down, Kaymer took the hole with a par and thus began the mini panic.
By the ninth, Kaymer was level. Donald drove into the bunker at the reachable par-five eighth and then suffered an aberration on the next. He badly pulled his approach into the desert and was forced to take a penalty. The treble-bogey seven was written all over his slumped gait.
It would have been easy to capitulate, particularly when he again found sand on the par-four 10th. He had not been down all week, but with Kaymer safely on the green, would the front-runner finally be overtaken? It was a hugely important moment. And Donald produced. An exquisite splash out to a few feet allowed him to escape with the half. Now it was Kaymer's turn to knock knees. They did so fatally.
The 26-year-old was in closer on the par-five 11th but sometimes in match play that can work to your disadvantage. Donald rolled in his eight-footer for birdie and so Kaymer yanked his five-footer for the half. He carried his frustration on to the par-three 12th tee and duly made a hash of that shot, as well. He was short-sided in the bunker, could not get up and down and the deficit with Donald was now two.
When Kaymer missed from three feet on the 16th that was effectively that. Britain had its second champion in as many years, Donald emulating Ian Poulter. However, Germany could boast its second world No 1; Kaymer emulating Bernhard Langer. "That is such a special feeling," said the 26-year-old. Not the worst consolation. Indeed, for Europe this was the ultimate win-win situation.
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