Rory McIlroy has more talent than Tiger Woods. That is the view of Luke Donald. Cue headlines, cue columns, cue radical differences of opinion. And as this debate will rage so the quiet Englishman will try to apply the historic finishing touches to the season in which he rose to become the best of them all.
Donald is the world No 1 and at this Dubai World Championship these next four days he will attempt to become the first player to win the two main money lists in the same year. The US title is already in the locker, the European version will join it so long as he finishes in the top nine here or if McIlroy fails to win. By any estimation, the achievement would be notable. Yet still his name will not resound in the mythical deliberations of the pantheon. Why? A listen to yesterday's press conference would explain exactly why.
It is par for this rather bizarre course; hearing the game's best being quizzed about the kingly merits of those the rankings consider his inferior. Donald, it seems, has the throne, but not the birthright. While he is man-made, Rory and Tiger are God-given. They are judged by more celestial means than mere week-to-week statistics. Even Donald, himself, cannot resist prophesying.
"Rory has the most talent that I've played with out here," he said. "Tiger is very, very close but I think it was his work ethic and mindset which separated him from the field when he was really at the top of the game. In terms of talent, I think Rory has more. Where will he be in 10 years' time? I think the sky's the limit. I see him winning lots of tournaments and lots of majors."
Where does Donald fit within that future? Well, there are greats and there are those who are great. Donald understands his place; he sees it in the extent of his profile. "It's just something to do with my personality," said Donald, who turned 34 yesterday. "I just go about my business and get on with it. I'm not outspoken, I'm not controversial. I don't believe in trying to hype up the crowd. I just go out there and do my job as best I can."
Donald would be as likely to stare down McIlroy on today's first tee as he would be to wear a nose stud. It's not his style to be demonstrative, yet that doesn't necessarily mean he has no style. One day British sport will wake up and realise what it has in this character from Hemel Hempstead. With a few words about his recent emotional whirlwind he showed his class. Colin Donald died on 8 November. Sophia Donald was born on 11 November. "I experienced a wide range of emotions, something you can't ever prepare for," said Donald.
"I lost a good friend in my dad, someone who brought me up in the proper way. He was never really as concerned about my golf as he was bringing me up to be a decent person with good morals. He taught me to treat people like I would like to be treated myself. So his passing was tough, very tough. But I think the birth of my second daughter a few days later did spread a little grace on the situation. I was able to concentrate on a new life."
Naturally, the recollections are there; in golf they have to be. "Dad introduced me to the game," he said. "He would take me out, sometimes even before school. We would go out at 7am and play a quick nine holes. I have fond memories of that. He didn't play a lot, but his big line was he taught me everything he knew. Yeah, he always took full credit for my success."
Of course, Donald wants to win this for his father. He said it, the sentimentalists will write it and the desert will flow with tears come Sunday evening. But this will not be any grief-stricken, guilt-ridden dedication from a man whose heart remains on the inside of his polo shirt. "Family will always be the most important thing and I don't think the passing of my father changed that," he said. "That's the way I have always seen it, especially since the birth of my children. It made me grow up and put things in perspective. I'm going to try my arse off at golf, but if it doesn't work out, so be it. That helped me as a golfer. It is no coincidence between my successes and the birth of my first child. I was able to let go of mistakes on the golf course. They didn't seem as important to me."
Elle was born in 2010. Before then, Donald would fret where his own considerable talent could take him. A sports psychiatrist was enlisted to probe the far reaches of his ambition. "Jim Fanning asked me straight up, 'Do you want to be world No 1'?" said Donald. "And, at that point having watched what Tiger had to go through, I replied, 'Not really'. I didn't really want to deal with all that media and everything. But me and Tiger are very different. Obviously, he's had a tremendous career and gains a lot more attention than I do – probably rightly so. But now I'm No 1, I feel quite comfortable, because it's not changed things too much."
Donald has made the ascent in his understated way; which is at odds with a results sheet, which has fairly screamed of his domination. The critics will point to the absence of majors, but those who follow the circuits will understand the stunning nature of his quality. Nineteen top-10 finishes in 25 starts this season. One more and Mr Consistent will take a place in the record books.
"If it works out on Sunday it will be my biggest accomplishment," said Donald. "There is no chance to win both money lists unless you are playing to a high level throughout the whole year. Because I am spreading myself thinner than most other guys, there can't be too many bad weeks. It would be something I'd be very proud about. It would be history and that's pretty amazing."
Indeed, it is, even just in terms of the history of jet lag. Nobody has criss-crossed the oceans with either the frequency or the success of Donald. As he has done so, the recognition from his homeland has not been as great as it should have been. If this was Andy Murray they would be holding street parties. "I certainly recognise what I've done," Donald said. "If you win a major you really jump up the rankings. But I haven't and I've still got there. I think getting to No 1 without winning a major is harder to do. You know, if people want to complain about me not winning majors then fine, because as yet I haven't. But when they then relate that to me being No 1 I just cannot understand that. It's a statistic, it's not based on opinion."
Alas, everything outside the ropes is based on opinion. That is not something which greatly bothers Donald and neither should it. Particularly here as he aims not only to set a new benchmark but also honour a loved one in his own dignified manner. "When someone leaves you, you're always reminded of them in certain ways," he said. "I'm sure my Dad will be there with me. I'm not sure I'll specifically try to think about my father. But yeah, it would be nice to win this one for him."
Race to Dubai
1. Luke Donald £3,322,656
2. Rory McIlroy £2,642,176
Difference £680,480. First prize of Dubai World Championship £793,298.
* Only Luke Donald and Rory McIlroy can win the Race to Dubai.
* For McIlroy to win, he must win and hope Donald finishes outside the top nine.
* If Donald finishes ninth or better, he wins.
* If Donald finishes tied ninth with one player and McIlroy wins he will win the race by roughly £4.
* If McIlroy wins and Donald ties ninth with two players, McIlroy wins.
* Last year, Donald finished tied ninth with one player The winner receives £951,957 from the Race to Dubai bonus pool as well as the Vardon Trophy. The second place receives £713,968.Reuse content