James Lawton: Donald must start having a say in the climactic major moments before it's too late
Donald's contentious point is that it doesn’t matter where the next tournament falls after Castle Stuart. Not where it is, perhaps, but what it is does matter
Tuesday 12 July 2011
In his most perfect world Luke Donald today looks across the moonscape of the Royal St George's links and believes, truly believes, that it is here that he will experience his Novak Djokovic moment while collecting the Old Claret Jug on Sunday afternoon.
This is to say that he will carry the sublime golf that brought him the Scottish Open on Sunday – his third title of the year – and produce a performance utterly reflective of his world No 1 ranking.
Djokovic, with poetic timing, happened to do it at Wimbledon quite beautifully. Donald can do it any old way, as long as he does it, if not this week beside the English Channel, somewhere soon on the occasion of a major tournament. Given the majesty of the game he unfurled in the Highlands – and so consistently conjures almost anywhere outside the imposing parameters of a major – this may seem like a statement of some impertinence.
However, the importance of his producing a serious challenge this week – his first at the highest, most pressurised level of the game – is only underlined by the experience of the man who won in Sandwich 18 years ago.
Greg Norman won his second Open – and gained his second major – at the age of 38. It was widely considered to be not so much a great triumph as a pathos-filled reminder of all that might have been Norman's had he been able to fully translate the natural brilliance of his game when it mattered most.
The Shark won his first major at the age of 31, two years younger than Donald is today, but he could never shake the burden of being obliged to prove that he was indeed arguably one of the most talented players golf had ever seen. He was No 1 in the inaugural Official World Rankings, an honour he held for 331 weeks of his career. Outside of the Open, he finished runner-up seven times, twice in particularly heart-rending circumstances at Augusta.
There is a smouldering point here. It is that at a younger age than Donald is today Norman had been involved in the climactic moments of five majors, winning one and finishing runner-up four times. Donald has yet to immerse himself in such dramas which, it is not too demanding to say in the wake of Rory McIlroy's epic performance at the US Open last month, is leaving such an important development troublingly late.
Last year at St Andrew's Louis Oosthuizen arrived ranked No 54. He won on the bridle. Donald finished strongly with a 69, but that still left him 11 shots off the pace.
Now Donald declares: "It's true that I had a long run of missed cuts in the Open. But the last couple of years have been better, fifth at Turnberry and 11th or 12th or something last year. And I've always said that if you're going into a tournament playing well it doesn't matter where it is. You're going to thrive on those positive feelings."
Unfortunately, the record lends Donald something less than overwhelming support. At Turnberry the story was certainly not his movement up the field. It was the the closeness of the ancient but still brilliant Tom Watson's attempt to win his sixth Open and ninth major, his first coming at Carnoustie in 1975 at the age of 25. Also compelling, in a road crash kind of way, was Lee Westwood's unravelling on the final hole and the first indications that the Tiger's life was in turmoil both on and off the course.
Donald's most contentious point is that it doesn't matter where the next tournament falls after the kind of brilliance he was able to display at Castle Stuart. Not where it is, perhaps – but what it is. The Open – or any other major – is where a winner golfer separates himself from all those who have not walked in his winning footsteps. Of course this doesn't announce for all time who is the better or more consistent golfer.
There is not much doubt, certainly, about where you would put your money if Donald found himself in hand-to-hand combat with Ben Curtis, the obscure last winner at Sandwich eight years ago who came out of the American Midwest for his time of glory, then virtually disappeared as a serious major performer but for a second place tie in the PGA five years later. Curtis, aged 34, has three professional wins against Donald's 10. By comparison with the Englishman, he has a game that at the highest level might be described as not much better than serviceable.
Donald will never have to wilt under such faint praise, nor, he insists, will he ever consider his world No 1 ranking a rebuke in the absence of a major win. But what a man is required to say in defence of his professional standing is not always the same as his deepest professional yearnings.
Luke Donald has shown again that he can play like a dream. Now he merely has to put an end to a major nightmare.
Shambolic RFU must send out an SOS now to Woodward
Eight years ago on a rainy night in Sydney it seemed that England had more or less inherited the rugby union world.
Not only were they newly crowned World Cup winners, they had the new age of professionalism by the tail. They had come to the vaunted southern hemisphere and kicked all its presumptions where it hurts most. Not with the artistry of the English game, but a hard-headed understanding of its strength.
It just shows quite how devastating a combination of amateurism, naivety, hubris – not to mention a complete loss of moral perspective – can prove.
Twickenham plainly thought it had seized the dawn of full blown professionalism. In fact it walked wide-eyed into an ambush.
The extent of the damage can only now be properly charted. Less than nine weeks before another World Cup, the hero of 2003, Martin Johnson, contemplates his greatest challenge as an embryo international coach on behalf of an organisation which currently lacks both a chairman, a chief executive and the beginnings of a clue as to who might fill the vital role of performance director.
For a little while that last role seemed like a shoo-in for the World Cup-winning Sir Clive Woodward. While it is true he was not immune from some of the illusions which came in the wake of Sydney – particularly when he was persuaded that he could just as easily reproduce his success in football – the need for someone of his strength and personality now seems overwhelming. He should be called in not by acclamation but SOS.
Levy's 'refusal to budge' over Modric is more likely to be a bargaining ploy
In this summer of Luka Modric's discontent much sympathy has to go to the supporters of Tottenham. Here was a player who took quite a number of them back to the greatest days of the club, when Spurs not only won trophies but did it with unforgettable style.
Filled with fine skill and relentless craftsmanship, the little Croat was an authentic reminder of the legendary Ghost of White Hart Lane, John White, as Spurs made such a colourful impact on their return to European competition. Unfortunately, White operated in the days when the devotion of the crowd was a significant counter-balance to the fact that despite all his God-given brilliance, a weekly salary in excess of £100,000 was beyond anyone's imagination.
For Modric it is – who can disagree? – a reasonable expectation. Some fans, though, may draw some encouragement from chairman Daniel Levy's public stance that Modric's defiance will lead him to nowhere further than a seat in the stands. Others – and these being the days they are, no doubt the vast majority – may reach a sharply different conclusion. These will remember the case of Dimitar Berbatov and decide Levy isn't so much drawing a line in the sand as driving up the price.
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