Sport Golf

Sunday 25 February 2018

Majestic Luke Donald rises to top again

Luke Donald celebrates winning the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth Golf Club, Surrey. Photo: PA
Luke Donald celebrates winning the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth Golf Club, Surrey. Photo: PA

Karl MacGinty

LUKE DONALD has knocked Rory McIlroy off the top of the world for the third time in as many months -- the Englishman's BMW PGA victory was so comprehensive, it will come as no surprise if he relieves McIlroy of his US Open title at Olympic next month.

Two Irish golfers also managed to deliver stellar performances at Wentworth. The 10th place achieved by David Higgins -- to match the best in modern times by any PGA regional professional at this showpiece championship -- was simply heroic.

Peter Lawrie, meanwhile, was the week's outstanding performer from tee to green, matching Donald, his playing companion on Saturday, in that department and outshining Ernie Els yesterday.

There was no little irony about the monster birdie putt the laconic Dubliner holed on the green at 18 for his closing 71, outright fourth place and a cheque for €225,000, making this his biggest payday on Tour since winning the Open de Espana in 2008.

Lawrie (38) knew if he had converted half of the birdie chances he created over four days on the West Course "I could have given Luke a good run for his money. But I have to be happy with what I've done.

"At least the bank manager is off my back now, and that's my card sorted out this year. Now I can play calm, free golf," added Lawrie, who goes to today's 36-hole US Open qualifier at Walton Heath knowing: "I can play with the best of them."

Higgins has not held a card on the European Tour since 2007, when his season was wrecked by a vicious liver infection. Yet the Waterville native looked perfectly at home among Europe's and the world's best. Judging by the final-round 70 which lifted him to four-under and clinched the biggest cheque of his career, €78,300, the 40-year-old still has a bright future on Tour.

Higgins, whose efforts also made him the first Irish player to win the Silver Salver for top PGA Pro in the event, appeared utterly unflappable in cruel playing conditions on Saturday and under the pressure of fighting for a result in front of massive crowds late on Sunday afternoon.

He paid tribute to his wife Elizabeth for bringing him to a special four-day course in London the week before last, where Higgins learned to apply this remarkable ring of confidence.

"I always knew my game was good enough but I never proved it before because my mind wasn't strong enough," he explained. "But I was strong all this week. I'm proud of myself because even when I made a few mistakes, I hung in there."

Registration

His jaw dropped when he learned that this top-10 finish doesn't yield a place at this week's Welsh Open. However, Higgins is looking forward to next month's gala Irish Open at Portrush and, having paid his registration fee with the European Tour for 2012, the other tournament invites his performance at Wentworth certainly will bring.

"This is a stepping stone," he said with a smile. "I'm playing so well, who knows where I am going?"

Lawrie, who led the tournament for three holes on Saturday, showed great resilience yesterday as he recovered from a harrowing triple-bogey seven at eight to land two birdies in his next four holes.

His Scottish namesake Paul Lawrie posted a Sunday-best 66 to tie Justin Rose for second on 11-under, the latter knocking McIlroy out of the lead in the Race to Dubai. They finished four behind the winner, who earned his place alongside Nick Faldo and Colin Montgomerie in history as the only players to record back-to-back victories at this championship, with a closing 68.

Donald completed all four rounds in the sixties, his 69 in truly wicked conditions on Saturday offering irrefutable evidence of this 33-year-old's ability to challenge strongly for his first Major title at the US Open.

Conditions at Wentworth on Saturday were so ludicrously hard and fast, Els launched a blistering, foul-mouthed attack on Tour and tournament officials for failing to water the course he designed. The South African profusely apologised to Tour chief executive George O'Grady and other officials in person for his intemperate language and made "a substantial donation" to the Tour's Benevolent Trust ... significantly, though, Els did not withdraw the substance of the points he made.

Still, Donald had a chance on Saturday to show how well he can perform in conditions similar to those likely to prevail at Olympic.

Even when he's not at his most precise off tee or fairway, Donald appears utterly invincible around and on the greens. He looks almost as infallible over putts up to 10 feet and more as the Tiger Woods of old.

Donald has moved so far ahead of McIlroy in the world rankings, the Holywood hero cannot catch him even if he eclipses the new world No 1 at The Memorial in Muirfield Village, Ohio this week.

Though McIlroy missed his second cut in a row on Friday and, after working on the range at Wentworth on Saturday, flew to Paris to be with girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki that evening as she prepared for the French Open, he could well get back to winning ways next Sunday on a course which suits him to a tee.

However, the usually accurate and relentlessly patient Donald looks a far better bet than McIlroy at Olympic.

Irish Independent

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