LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – It wasn’t Babe Ruth’s called shot. It wasn’t Joe Namath’s Super Bowl guarantee. It wasn’t even Ben Crenshaw’s coy proclamation of, “I’ve got a good feeling about tomorrow."
No, Luke Donald never stated that he was coming to Disney World to win the PGA Tour’s season finale. There was no hubris, no bravado, no boasting.
Even though the world’s No. 1-ranked golfer was competing in a field of journeymen, also-rans and youngsters trying to retain or at least improve their status, he never predicted a victory.
That doesn’t mean it wasn’t his sole intention for making the journey.
Let’s face facts: Players don’t compete in Fall Series tournaments unless there’s a worthy reason. Maybe it’s a home game. Maybe they need to fulfill the minimum appearance requirement. Maybe they need to finish in the top 30 on the money list to reach the Masters or the top 70 to qualify for invitationals or the top 125 just to keep their cards.
In the curious case of Donald, there were much different numbers at stake. With money leader Webb Simpson already committed to the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Classic field, he followed suit in an attempt to not only overtake that position – and give himself an opportunity to become the first player to win both the PGA and European money lists in the same season – but secure the Vardon Trophy and, very possibly, the Player of the Year award.
It says a lot about a player who would make the trip for such spoils. It says even more about one who accomplishes everything he intended.
To an outsider, Donald’s two-stroke, come-from-behind triumph on Sunday may have contained all the thrills of a sixth-grader robbing the kindergarten kids of their lunch money. Quite the contrary. It’s one thing to win when you want; it’s another to win when you need.
“The goal was to win,” Donald said. “Nothing was really going to be good enough other than that. You know, I think this is probably one of the most satisfying wins of my career just because of that. It was kind of do or die.”
In the end, Donald did. Entering the final round with a five-stroke deficit and playing head to head with Simpson for a fourth straight day, he shifted into another gear, racing to the top of the leaderboard. Donald carded a total of 10 birdies, including six in a row on the back nine, to post a final-round-best 8-under 64 – two shots clear of closest competitor Justin Leonard.
While the world’s No. 1 player winning a regular-season tournament isn’t normally a rare occurrence, as Donald astutely noted afterward, this was his first PGA Tour stroke-play victory in more than a half-decade. He previously won the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship earlier this season and followed with a pair of European Tour titles, but it’s not as if he’s piled up dozens of wins like certain players to formerly hold those top-rank honors.
He can now start building shelves for all the trophies he’s about to accumulate. Donald has already notched the Arnold Palmer award for leading the money list, the Vardon Trophy for lowest stroke-play average and the PGA of America’s Player of the Year award, which is based on a points system.
Still in doubt is the PGA Tour’s own POY award, to be voted on by the membership, but expect Donald’s victory to carry some extra weight in the decision-making process.
“It was pretty clear to me that from what everyone thought, I needed to win this week to be able to sway some people's votes,” he said. “In terms of Player of the Year, obviously I needed at the very least to win the money list. You know, to be able to do that, it's special when it really mattered. I think as golfers, it's nice to win, but much more pleasing when things really mean something a little bit extra.”
It’s funny. If there’s been a prevailing theme throughout the PGA Tour campaign, it’s that this has been the Year of Parity. And that’s true to a point – seven different players won two titles and nobody won more.
Donald’s victory may have lent a little more credence to the theory that this is still a tour comprised partially of haves and have-nots, one in which every player is not created equally. For so much of the year – heck, even until the back nine of the final round in the last event – the Tour was muddled with myriad questions and unsolved mysteries about its proceedings.
He may not have called his shot this week, but simply by showing up with a stated goal and achieving it, Donald wrapped up the season into a neat bow on Sunday, his name becoming the sole answer to so many of those questions.
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