DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Top-ranked Luke Donald will be encouraged by the memory of his father while making a run at history this weekend.
Donald, who turned 34 on Wednesday, is on the cusp of becoming the first golfer to win both the European Tour and American money titles in the same season
It would rank as his greatest achievement, he said, and one the Englishman would like to win for his late father Colin, who “taught me everything he knew.”
Donald’s father died last month, days before the birth of Donald’s second daughter, Sophia Ann.
“When someone leaves you, you are always reminded of them in certain ways,” Donald said. “I’m sure he’ll be there with me. I’m not sure if I’ll specifically try to think about my father, but, yeah, it would be nice to win one for him.”
Donald, who’s already won the U.S. PGA Tour money title, is in a duel with No. 2-ranked Rory McIlroy for the European money title. The Northern Irishman trails Donald by just under $1 million, so to capture the title he must win the Dubai World Championship and hope that Donald finishes outside the top nine.
Donald could have clinched the title on Sunday, but McIlroy won the Hong Kong Open to keep the European Tour’s end-of-season Race To Dubai alive.
Donald welcomed the chance to go head-to-head with McIlroy, whom he considers a friend and rival.
“I think there is nothing really easy in life. You have to kind of earn those successes, and I fully expect Rory to play well and put some pressure on me,” Donald said. “It’s made me more focused this week and I’m looking forward to the challenge.”
Winning the elusive double wasn’t a goal for Donald at the beginning of the year, but he said it started creeping into his mind after he won the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth in a playoff over Lee Westwood in May. Donald rose to No. 1 with the win, becoming only the 15th player to reach the top ranking in 25 years.
Donald has won three other titles this season, including Disney’s Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Classic where he took the U.S. money title from Webb Simpson. That put him on course for unprecedented success on both money lists.
“As time went on and I played and won the right tournaments, then certainly it became a goal,” he said. “You know, it’s something I’ve heard other players talk about in the past few years. I remember Ernie (Els) talking about it once and how hard it would be to do but how satisfying it would be to be able to do that.”
For Donald, winning both titles would be a chance “to make history.”
“No one’s officially done it before. I think that’s pretty amazing,” he said. “It’s not easy to travel as much as you do playing both tours and to be able to adjust to the time changes and all that. … If it all works out Sunday, that will be my biggest accomplishment.”
McIlroy said he thought his chance of winning was slim because he was up against one of the world’s most consistent golfers. Donald has finished outside the top 10 only three times this year on the European Tour.
“He’s won four times in a year and all big events – the World Match Play, Wentworth, Scottish Open and obviously Disney when he needed to,” McIlroy said. “And he’s hardly finished outside the top 10. He’s deservedly the No. 1 player at the moment.”
But Robert Karlsson, who won the tournament last year, said McIlroy will have an edge because the Greg Norman-designed Earth course is playing longer than it has in the past. He said at least three of the par 5s will favor the big-hitting McIlroy.
“Luke has another weapon that has taken him to the top of the world and that is his short game,” Karlsson said. “But Rory has a huge advantage getting up to the greens. That is just the way it is.”
If Donald does take the European money title, it is unlikely to silence the detractors who have questioned whether he deserves to be No. 1 because he hasn’t won a major. He tied for fourth at this year’s Masters, eighth at the U.S. PGA Championship and 45th at the U.S. Open. He missed the cut at the British Open.
The composed and low-key Donald said he wasn’t concerned about his critics, insisting that earning the No. 1 spot without winning a major in some ways was more impressive.
“The critics will always be there and they make me stronger to be honest,” Donald said.
“Every time someone says I can’t do anything, it just makes me work harder. So you know, fine. I don’t really mind that there’s critics out there. I’ve had a tremendous year and I’m excited about next year. I think I’m a different player this year because of all the victories. I feel more confident. Hopefully, I can bring the game to the majors.”
Donald returned to the tour only last week from a five-week break, during which he buried his father and welcomed the birth of his daughter. He said the time “was tough, very tough.” But his daughter’s arrival “spread a little grace on the situation” and allowed him to “concentrate my efforts on a new life.”
Reflecting on his father, Donald admitted Colin was more concerned about “bringing him up as a decent person” than passing on golf tips. But Donald still said he remembers many times walking the course with his father when he was a youngster.
“We didn’t play a lot but he would take me out sometimes, even mornings before school and we would go and play a quick nine holes,” he added. “I have fond memories of that.”