DUBAI // Luke Donald, the world No 1, said he will be facing the most talented golfer he has ever seen when he goes head to head with Rory McIlroy this afternoon in the first round of the Dubai World Championship.
Donald is trying to finish off a memorable season by becoming the first golfer to top both the American and European money lists. The only man who stands in his way is McIlroy, whom Donald considers a more naturally gifted player than even Tiger Woods.
"I have always said that of all the guys I have played on tour, Rory has the most talent," Donald said yesterday.
"He's young, got a great future ahead of him, and I can see him winning lots of tournaments, lots of majors. The sky is the limit."
Donald was asked whether McIlroy was better than Woods, who is four short of the record of 18 major championships held by Jack Nicklaus, and is the only player to hold the game's big four titles - the Masters, US Open, British Open and US PGA - at the same time.
"I believe so," said Donald, who celebrated his 34th birthday yesterday. "Tiger is very, very close, and it was his work ethic that was always tremendous, plus his mindset really set him apart when he was really at the top of his game.
"But in terms of talent, Rory has more."
Donald will have an close up look at that talent today when he and the Ulsterman tee off at 12.30pm as the last twosome in the 58-player field at Jumeirah Golf Estate's Earth Course.
At stake is US$7.5 million (Dh27.5m) in prize money as well as another $7.5m in bonus money for the top 15 golfers in the final Race to Dubai standings.
Donald will claim the top spot unless McIlroy wins this week and he finishes outside the top nine.
McIlroy kept his slim hopes alive by winning last weekend's tournament in Hong Kong, and Dubai's first-place cheque of €922,645 (Dh4.53m) would be just enough to vault him to the title if Donald comes in 10th or worse.
"Rory's win in Hong Kong means he can still beat me and that this week isn't an anticlimax," Donald said.
"I would quite like to be sitting on a beach somewhere, but I expected Rory to put this pressure on me, which has made me more focused, and I look forward to the challenge.
"I am absolutely sure he is going to put up a great fight this week."
Golf's two best players have enjoyed a friendly rivalry, in stark contrast to Woods and Phil Mickelson, who famously did not get on when they occupied the top two places in the world rankings.
"We practised together a few times last winter," Donald said. "Rory is a good guy and we get along.
"I'm not going to not like him just because of rivalries. That's a big reason why we have done so well in the Ryder Cup.
"But I've got to try and not worry about Rory. The fact he can beat me has focused my attention to do what I do, and go out there and try to win the event and take care of business that way."
Donald said it has been difficult for him to try to put the possible dual money titles out of his mind, given that he may be about to make history.
"If it all works out on Sunday, it will be my biggest accomplishment," he said.
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