Kaymer leads summit race but Donald keeps the British flag flying
Saturday 26 February 2011
Martin Kaymer could replace Lee Westwood as world No 1 today, but if that is an ominous thought for the British golf fan then the progress of Luke Donald here at the Accenture World Championship is more than a welcome distraction.
Donald moved into the quarter-finals with a 3&2 victory over Matteo Manassero, the Italian sensation, yesterday. The 17-year-old has enjoyed a dream run in south Arizona but was no match for the golfer 16 years his elder. Donald was four-under for his first nine and did not drop a shot all day. The Englishman looks transformed from the golfer who trudged away from last week's Northern Trust Open after a second-round 79.
To what does he put the difference down? A little bit of rust and a whole lot of adrenaline. While Riviera was his opening tournament of the year, Donald loves the matchplay format as proven by a starring role at last year's Ryder Cup. "I enjoy that urgency of having to get it done in 18 holes," said Donald, who faces Ryan Moore this morning. "I thrive on that vibe."
In this form, Donald looks a sound bet to follow up the triumph of his compatriot Ian Poulter last year, although the experience of Ben Crane here will re-emphasise the fickleness of this head-to-head format.
On Thursday, the American thrashed the 21-year-old Rory McIlroy 8&7. Yesterday he lost 7&6 to the 47-year-old Miguel Angel Jimenez. As brilliant as he was against the young Ulsterman he was as woeful against the veteran Spaniard, shanking his tee-shot into the desert on the climactic par-three 12th. Yet nothing should be taken away from Jimenez, a man who is rapidly becoming a hero for golfers over a certain age who enjoy a certain lifestyle.
Next up for The Mechanic is Kaymer. The German needs only to win two games today and he will replace Westwood at the summit, regardless of how he fares in tomorrow's final. But the evidence of his 2&1 defeat of Hunter Mahan in a high-class encounter establishes the US PGA champion as the clear favourite.
The growing American fan-club of Bubba Watson will no doubt disagree and the manner which this left-hander accounted for Geoff Ogilvy, a two-time Accenture champion, was certainly impressive. Watson was seven-under for his 15 holes, unleashing some outrageous strikes in the process. Watson is a maverick in every sense. His swing is less text-book more comic book and after this 6&5 dismantling he referred to himself in the third person throughout his TV interview. He finished it thus: "Bubba did good today."
The American networks will be mighty relieved he did and will relish this morning's big-hitting contest between Watson and JB Holmes (who beat Jason Day on the 18th). Rickie Fowler, the 22-year-old from California, had been the poster boy, but after seeing off Phil Mickelson in spectacular fashion on Thursday he failed to make the sparks fly in a more dour contest against his compatriot Matt Kuchar.
Kuchar will now face the Korean YE Yang, who produced yet another shock when seeing off Graeme McDowell, the 3&2 victory being capped with a chip-in on the 16th green. In truth, McDowell's golf has been scrappy all week and his progress owed more to the competitive spirit which oozes out of the US Open champion.
His efforts at least ensure he leapfrogs Tiger Woods in the rankings, who will not be in the top three for the first time since May 1997. But such seems the speed of his freefall that statistic is not nearly as gobsmacking as it once would have been. What will yank the eyebrows under visors – particularly in America – is the ever-intensifying blue-and-gold confluence at the peak of the order. This is the first time in 19 years that Europe can boast the world's top three. A remarkable development.
Indeed, if Donald's form continues his continent will have the game's principal quartet. And the last time they could say that was in 1992 when Ian Woosnam, Nick Faldo, Jose Maria Olazabal and Seve Ballesteros commanded the summit. Naturally, it is impossible not to hark back to this golden age.
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