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Donald: The Deserved One

Luke Donald
Getty Images
WEST PALM BEACH, FL - DECEMBER 07: Rickie Fowler hits out of the fairway bunker on the 1st hole during the final round of the 2009 PGA TOUR Qualifying Tournament at Bear Lakes Country Club on December 7, 2009 in West Palm Beach, Florida. (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)  - 

DUBLIN, Ohio – If your divisor climbs above 40 starts and you continue to lose accumulated points at a rate of 1.1 percent per week and considering the strength of that week’s field, relative to the vagaries of the home tour rule and Official World Golf Ranking minimums, then you must be in Cuyahoga Falls . . . or so it seems to your public school project.

With apologies to mathematicians everywhere, this isn’t about the convoluted world ranking math or the missing majors. Nor does this have anything to do with a calculated crown that has traded hands four times in less than a year.

No, this is about a singularly dedicated man and a mission, not to the top spot but beyond. Simply put, Luke Donald disease doesn’t look so shabby now, does it?

On Sunday Donald ascended to the top spot in style, an overtime haymaker against reigning No. 1 Lee Westwood at the European Tour’s flagship event. Long live the king. The king is dead.

You can back your way into a major championship, you can salvage a dismal season with just one start and a birdie at the 18th hole makes every bad round better, but there is no sneaking up on the world’s top ranking.

The math said this ultimately came down to decimal points, fraction of points as thin as the arguments used to dismiss the ranking itself, but ultimately this was about dedication.

Jack Nicklaus had faded gracefully into the sunset before the world ranking was concocted, but then no one really needed long math to recognize him as the perennial No. 1. Similarly, it’s no secret to Nicklaus how Donald scaled Mt. OWGR, with the legend having seen the transition at his own Bear’s Club in south Florida, where the Englishman is also a member.

“There isn't anybody who spends more time working on his golf game than I've seen in Luke Donald,” Nicklaus said. “He spends his time chipping and putting, chipping and putting, and I mean, he wears out the practice greens. . . . The effort he has put into it has been rewarded.”

Some, however, question a complicated formula that favors consistency over championships. For many 0-for-31, Donald’s record in the game’s majors, does not add up to No. 1, including Nicklaus, who figured most of the rank and file still consider Tiger Woods, who has dropped to 13th in the world, the game’s top player. Without a major, the collective says, the No. 1 ranking is hollow.

But that logic misses the point, if not the peculiarities, of the game.

There have been five players who became No. 1 in the world without a major. Three of those players – Fred Couples, Ian Woosnam and David Duval – eventually got their Grand Slam moments. It would be a sucker bet to think Donald and Westwood, the two No. 1s without a major, won’t get theirs.

And what if they don’t? Will Donald’s golden years be filled with angst if his grand tilt never comes, or guilt because he dared to play well enough to ascend to the top spot without the due diligence of a major championship?

“You can ask someone who probably hasn't had a great career but has won a major. I'm not sure if you'd ask them, there might be a different answer,” Donald reasoned. “But I would love to finish my career winning a major. If I don't, it won't be the end of the world. I know I tried my best.”

Perhaps Donald’s take is little more than sports psychologist mind games, an attempt to dismiss the building pressure of having not won a major. Chance are he’ll have a slightly different vantage point if his major moment ever arrives. None of that, however, has any impact on his current status as the game’s best player.

“The way Luke has played the last 12, 18 months has been pretty incredible,” Ben Curtis said. “I don’t think the world rankings lie at the top.”

Nor does Donald’s resume mislead. What he lacks in style he makes up for in substance. In his last 15 starts he’s finished outside the top 10 just once, and over the ranking’s two-year rolling window he has finished win, place or show on 15 occasions. Even in an era desensitized to the demands of winning by Woods’ dominance, Donald’s card is impossible to dismiss.

Never mind that the Englishman’s style of play is akin to bringing a spork to a knife fight, he’s a fairways-and-greens guy playing a bomb-and-gouge game. Whatever the world ranking arithmetic, Donald has nothing to apologize for.

A few years back Donald started keeping a daily “performance diary,” and on Wednesday at Muirfield Village he was asked what he penciled in following his historic victory on Sunday at the BMW PGA Championship.

He politely declined to offer any insight, but given the pushback from his recent accomplishment we’d suggest something simple and to the point: “Note to self: You are world No. 1.”