x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Luke Donald deserves top credit rating

It is only the unenlightened from outside the "golfing family" who need to see major credentials before they grant Luke Donald the credit he deserves.

Luke Donald is yet to win one of golf's majors.
Luke Donald is yet to win one of golf's majors.

The fair-haired sports star tramped around the Earth Course, looking free from every care in the world. And why not?

The sun was shining, the already healthy bank account was about to be topped up with another pile, and there is certain to be a world No 1 ranking in the Christmas stocking.

Caroline Wozniacki may have been focused on what her beau, Rory McIlroy, was doing at the Dubai World Championship this weekend. But in truth, the world's best-ranked female tennis player probably has more in common with Luke Donald, who comfortably held her man at bay in finishing first in the Race to Dubai yesterday.

Wozniacki and Donald could trade stories until the camels come home about the way consistent excellence does not guarantee the kudos it deserves.

Perhaps they could have a competition to decide which of them has achieved more but been acclaimed the least.

In functional trainers, a T-shirt and shorts, Wozniacki looked every bit the girl next door as she followed McIlroy around the course.

Donald seems like the annoyingly gifted little brother in comparison. He is seen but not heard, yet silently goes around hoovering up almost everything in sight, other than the limelight.

When Donald birdied the 17th, as part of his flawless round of 66, he essayed a gentle fist pump, let out a mini-woop, then quickly followed up with a grin that seemed to say: "Sorry for getting carried away just then."

His celebration when he sunk his final putt at 18, with both arms raised and index fingers pointing skywards, seemed almost apologetic.

Minutes later, Carlos Quiros showed him how it should be done with an electric shock of a jive after holing his eagle putt to clinch the tournament.

But that would not have suited Donald. Champions do not come more endearingly understated than this one.

Given that this tournament is marketed as "golf's ultimate finale", it is one of the curiosities of its short history to date that the conclusion to the Race to Dubai is not allowed to be an end in itself.

Those who finish it as Europe's No 1 player usually spend the immediate aftermath having to explain away what is missing in their life, rather than basking in the glow of their achievement. When Lee Westwood won here two years ago to cement his status as Europe's best, the rider that seemed to follow was: "Better luck next year; you might win a major."

At his valedictory press conference yesterday, the first, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh questions which Donald had to field followed the same theme.

Would this give him the confidence required to win a major next year? Would he taper his schedule specifically to win one? Which of them would he most like to win? Now we are on the topic, what about the grand slam?

It seemed a touch harsh to question someone who had just made history by topping the money standings on each side of the Atlantic, but the man himself was not unhappy to broach the issue. It has clearly been on his mind, too.

Of course it is only the unenlightened from outside the "golfing family," as McIlroy put it, who need to see major credentials before they grant the polite Englishman the credit he deserves.

"People outside of golf just look at wins and they think it is the be-all and end-all," the Northern Irishman said last week.

"From within the golf family, I think what he's done this year, he will receive a lot of applause for that.

"Unfortunately, maybe people outside the golfing world [will question] is he the real No 1 because he's not got a major."

For now, High Wycombe's finest has to content himself with merely being a history maker.

He wakes up today as the first player ever to finish top of the tree on both the European and US tours.

That should provide a semblance of satisfaction, at least.

"Surreal" was the way Donald described it, specifically in relation to the last six holes, by which time he knew his pioneering feat was sealed, delivered and awaiting his signature at the scorer's hut.

"I was able to enjoy the walk," he said. "I guess that is what it is all about."