MARANA, Ariz. – Luke Donald spoiled Martin Kaymer’s rise to No. 1 in the world by winning the Match Play Championship on Sunday with a performance so dominant he never played the 18th hole all week.
Not even the snow and sleet could stop Donald.
On a bizarre final day in the high desert, which began with snow covering the fairways, Donald pulled ahead for good with a birdie on the par-5 11th and a par on the next hole, eventually closing out Kaymer on No. 16 for a 3-and-2 victory.
The consolation prize for Kaymer is going to No. 1 in the career, which he assured by reaching the championship match.
Donald was in more dire need of this trophy, however.
It was his first win in America in five years, and it was only his second win worldwide since he captured the 2006 Honda Classic. The 33-year-old Englishman had done just about everything right except win.
He took care of that in a week like no other in the 13-year history of the Accenture Match Play Championship. Donald played only 89 holes in six matches and never trailed in any of them. In fact, he led after 81 of those holes.
“It feels amazing,” Donald said. “I had a bit of a monkey on my back. I hadn’t won in the U.S. in five years.”
Donald won his first World Golf Championship, and became the second player from England to capture the Match Play Championship. He goes to a career-best No. 3 in the world to continue a European resurgence in the ranking.
The next world ranking will be Kaymer, Lee Westwood, Donald and Graeme McDowell. It’s the first time since March 15, 1992, that the top four spots have been occupied by Europeans.
Matt Kuchar defeated Bubba Watson in the consolation match and will go to No. 10 in the world.
This Match Play Championship will stand out for reasons beyond golf.
A late winter storm dusted Dove Mountain with nearly an inch of snow, and the fairways were blankets of white in the morning. Donald looked out his hotel room and suggested on Twitter that a snowball fight determine who had honors on the first tee.
The snow had melted when they teed off, although dark clouds on the horizon loomed. Sleet began falling when the championship match reached the third green, and play was stopped when sleet covered the fourth fairway.
“Do we have to keep playing?” Kaymer asked chief referee Mark Russell.
Kaymer, who purchased a snood to wear around his neck, pulled it up over his mouth and looked like a real Western gunslinger (except for the pattern of flies on fish hooks). Donald took out his blue-and-white umbrella and crouched beneath it.
After about 10 minutes, when the fairways turned from white back to green, play resumed.
Donald seized on the moment. Already 1 up from his 18-foot birdie on the par-5 second, he watched Kaymer hit a fade over the bunker to about 7 feet, then answered with a shot into 2 feet for a conceded birdie. Kaymer missed, and Donald was 2 up.
On the next hole, Kaymer pulled his drive into the desert and fell another hole down.
Donald three-putted for bogey from below the ridge to lose his first hole, and Kaymer squared the match at the turn with a birdie on the eighth and a bogey on No. 9, where Donald hit his approach into a desert bush and had to return to his original spot in the fairway.
The turning point might have been No. 10.
Kaymer had all the momentum and blistered a tee shot down the middle, while Donald went from a scrubby lie in the desert to a waste area short of the green. Donald, however, blasted out to 3 feet for a conceded par.
He took the lead on the 11th by making an 8-foot birdie putt as Kaymer missed his birdie from just inside 6 feet, and Donald regained all the moment on the next hole when Kaymer came up short into the sand and took bogey.
Donald went 3 up on the 15th when Kaymer missed a birdie putt from inside 4 feet, and the “Germanator” conceded the match on the 16th when he failed to hole a 30-foot birdie putt.
It was the first time the championship match was decided over 18 holes instead of 36.