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Luke Donald retains PGA crown to reclaim No 1 slot from Rory McIlroy

By Kevin Garside

There is nothing in golf quite like a birdie putt on the last that is not required in order to walk off with the goods. That was the happy denouement engineered yesterday at the BMW PGA by Luke Donald, who retained a championship for the first time and with it resumed the world No 1 ranking.

As dad tapped in for his par and a four-shot victory over playing partner Justin Rose and resurgent Scot Paul Lawrie, the growing Donald brood turned the rear of the 18th green into a private nursery. Eldest daughter Elle was not the least bit interested until given her cue by mum to head in her father's direction.

There was a sense when he scooped the infant into his arms that it was her arrival as much as coaching guru Dave Alred that flicked the winning switch in the mind of Donald. The perspective that comes with fatherhood has done him no harm at all. The only box left to tick to adorn a life which in every other regard appears perfect is marked "major championship".

This he acknowledged with grace. His majorless state is not the embarrassment to him that some critics would have it. He considers his achievements ample enough but accepts there is a gap to plug. After following Sir Nick Faldo and Colin Montgomerie into the winner's enclosure as consecutive champion, Donald said: "What a great place to do it. This is the biggest event on the European Tour. To win here again and go back to No 1 is pretty special. Being No 1 means I'm doing something right.

"I have a great team around me and feel very fortunate to be standing here as a champion. To win a major is the next step, obviously. Winning a big event like this just adds to my confidence. The key now is to bring that confidence to the majors."

It was here a year ago that Donald ripped the No 1 ranking from Lee Westwood for the first time and announced his intention to contend on an entirely different level. This, as he said, was understood to mean mastery of the big four. He did not deliver that but managed a feat no one had done before; winning the money list on both sides of the Atlantic.

Those who had lifted major trophies, US Open champion Rory McIlroy and Open champion Darren Clarke, doffed their caps at the year's end, both voting Donald their player of the year. He was imperious again yesterday, cooling the heels of Rose, a player who has been running hot all year.

Donald values competence over drama. You scratch your head to recall a riveting shot then look at the scorecard and wonder at the lead he has fashioned. He was out of position on the first yet made his par. He missed the green on the par-three second trying to cut a high fade against the wind. Par was still the result.

Errors are not beyond him but he does not react to them negatively. Maybe it is the hours spent in the company of Alred, a man who takes a scalpel to behaviour patterns, chopping them up into digestible chunks. Donald is swallowing his advice whole.

A poor tee shot at the par-five fourth led to a compromised second shot, which followed on to a fluffed chip, which led to a difficult putt, which became a bogey six. An advantage that had stood at three shots on the third tee had disappeared in one black hole, cause for serious introspection in the temperamentally infirm. Not in this bloke.

The voice of Alred, inaudible yesterday to all but Donald, was conjured to withering effect. His next tee shot at the par-three fifth was inside five feet. Though his putt lipped out, he lasered successive birdies from 15 feet at six and seven to re-establish a two-shot lead. Another birdie at 10 extended that to three. This was Donald going imperceptibly through the gears.

"I just tried to get my head down and plug away," he said. "I knew I was putting well. After the bogey at four, I did not give him another hole when he was hitting first apart from 18. I got the job done."

Rose was striking the ball beautifully yet going backwards. "The putter was the difference," Rose said. "Between six and 11 he didn't miss a thing. Luke just played really well with no loose shots down the stretch. With his short game he was always going to be difficult to beat."

Westwood was not kidding when he described Donald at the start of the tournament as the best player on the planet from 80 yards in. No pin is safe when he is in this mood. Birdies at 12 and 16 took him five clear, and this on a course that reduced its architect, Ernie Els, to a four-letter frenzy on the penultimate day. Rose nicked one back with a birdie at 17 to steal the honour on the last but the game was up long before then.

Today Donald heads back to his adopted America to begin preparations for this week's Memorial Tournament in Ohio, where he renews his rivalry with McIlroy. And then it is pistols drawn at the second major of the year, the US Open at Olympic Club. Advantage Donald.

Belfast Telegraph


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