Luke Donald’s Best Win?

Luke Donald captured his fifth worldwide win of 2011 Sunday at the Children’s Miracle Network Classic in Orland. The win catapulted Donald to the top of the PGA Tour money list at season’s end. The world number one has a commanding lead in the Race to Dubai (the European money list) and is the consensus international player of the year.

Donald’s performance was impressive; commentators’ hyperbolic rhetoric afterwards was less so. Let’s get one thing straight: Luke Donald had a great year, but this was not his best moment of the season. Not by a long shot.

Donald thrashed the field at the Accenture Match Play in February. He pummeled Martin Kaymer in the final there, and In May, he stared down rival Lee Westwood in a playoff to capture the BMW PGA Championship, the European Tour’s flagship event. Donald jumped over these men to become world #1. Those two victories were much more impressive than his triumph Sunday.

Perhaps the media got blown away by the way Donald performed yesterday. He shot a final round 64, closing in a blistering back-nine 30 to soar past playing companion Webb Simpson, the man atop the money list going into the season’s final day. Sure it was great theatre. But it was just that: an entertaining moment for golf nuts. Most of the country was tuned into pro football.

To be fair, the media enjoy scintillating play and often have short term memories Quick: who won this year’s Scottish Open? Answer: Luke Donald.

Donald accomplished something far more important than winning the money title, however. This was his first stroke-play title in the U.S. since the 2006 Honda Classic. That came nearly a year before Steve Jobs unveiled the iPHONE. In other words: an eternity ago. Donald has been a top 10 machine in the interim, but still, the rap on him was that he couldn’t close.

One can no longer argue that position based on his play over the last eighteen months. He’s won six times around the world during that time.Unfortunately those magical moments haven’t come on the game’s biggest stages.  Stellar play has made Luke Donald the best player without a major. And all the attention and pressure that brings.

He must hear questions about the majors for six months, until he tees it up at Augusta. His great short game and magical putting wand should make him an early favorite at the 2012 Masters. Until then (and until he tastes major championship glory) he’ll be remembered as a nice player who made his millions at events like Disney. Or put more bluntly- a footnote in the game’s history.

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