Marana, Ariz. (Feb 28, 2011) — Martin Kaymer of Germany climbed to No. 1 in the World Golf Rankings, but Luke Donald spoiled the coronation in the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship.
One day after Kaymer assured his ascension to the top spot by winning in the semifinals, Donald surprised the German in the final, 3 and 2, at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club at Dove Mountain in Marana, Ariz., claiming his first PGA Tour victory in five years.
“It feels amazing,” said the 33-year-old Englishman, who never trailed in any of his six matches and rose to No. 3 in the rankings on a day that began when the players awoke to find the course covered in snow. “I had a bit of a monkey on my back. I hadn’t won in the U.S. in five years.
“To come here and beat the top 63 players, I guess in the world, is very gratifying. It’s been an amazing week. I had a lot of good things happen, made a bunch of birdies, never trailed in a match. Kind of one of those weeks where a lot of things went my way.”
Matt Kuchar turned back Bubba Watson in the all-American consolation match, 2 and 1, at the end of a week in which Thomas Bjorn knocked off three-time Accenture champion Tiger Woods in round one and Rickie Fowler sent Phil Mickelson packing on the second day.
Still it was a good week for the Americans, who despite all the talk that the Europeans are so much better at match play, had four of the eight players in the quarterfinals–with Ryan Moore and J.B. Holmes also getting that far.
It’s simply that a lot of Euros are playing exceptionally well right now, which is why they held the top four spots in the World Golf Rankings the following week, with Kaymer moving ahead of Lee Westwood of England, who was followed by Donald and Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland.
Woods fell to No. 5, the first time he’s been that low since 1997.
“I was very relaxed this morning, saw the snow, was walking on my balcony, was in enjoying the moment a little bit, knowing I will become the No. 1 in the world tomorrow,” said Kaymer, who beat Watson in the semifinals, 1 up, in a replay of his playoff victory over the American at the PGA Championship in August at Whistling Straits.
“And I was very relaxed when I went to the first tee. I know I was trying my very best. Of course, I was a little bit tired, but when you play a final there’s no time for tiredness. I was trying everything I could and it just didn’t work out.”
That’s because Donald unquestionably was the best player all week, playing six first six matches in a record-low 73 holes, four fewer than Woods in his victory in 2003, when the tournament was played at La Costa.
Luke was at his best on Saturday, when he turned back Moore in the quarterfinals, 5 and 4, and Kuchar in the semis, 6 and 5, carding 13 birdies in his 27 holes. In his 89 holes during the week, he recorded 32 birdies, seven more than any other player.
Donald led the PGA Tour in sand save percentage last year, when he was No. 4 in scrambling and No. 8 in putts per round, and this was more of the same.
“I’m very diligent about working on my short game,” said Donald, whose last PGA Tour victory came at the 2006 Honda Classic. “I know that my game off the tee and some of my iron play, there is room for improvement, you look at my statistics.
“But I make up for it around the greens, especially the last few years. And I pride myself on being a good having good fundamentals and working on it. And I can only thank my coach Pat Goss for that. We work hard on it, and I thank him for that.”
Said Kaymer: “I think he’s probably the best in the world in the short game at the moment. I played with Phil Mickelson a few times and (his short game) is unbelievable. But what Luke is doing at the moment is a joke.
“Wherever he is, you know that he will make the up-and-down, if he doesn’t hole it. And it was impressive.”
From the start.
Donald took the lead by holing an 18-foot birdie putt on the second hole, hit his approach to within two feet on No. 4 for a conceded birdie and went 3 up with a par on the next hole when Kaymer pulled his drive into the desert and took a bogey.
Then, for the only time all week, Luke suddenly lost his grip.
Kaymer won the sixth hole with a birdie thanks to a three-putt from the fringe by Donald, who couldn’t match the German’s birdie on the par-five eighth and hit his ball into a sagebrush on No. 9, losing the hole to a bogey with a double-bogey 7.
Suddenly, the match was even.
“I was frustrated,” said Donald, a graduate of Northwestern who lives much of the year in Chicago. “I don’t like giving away holes and to three-putt No. 6, and to lose it to a bogey on 9 was frustrating.
“But at the same time, I told myself, ‘I’m swinging well. I’m still not down in the match and never been down this week, and let’s continue to try and make that happen.’ I still felt pretty positive because I wasn’t down in the match.”
That would not change, thanks to his short game.
Donald drove into the desert again on No. 10 and his approach came to rest near another bush short of the green, but he was able to chip from about 70 feet to within gimme range to salvage a halve of the hole.
“I think that up-and-down on 10 was a huge point for me,” said Donald, who missed the cut at Riviera in his first event of the year a week earlier. “If I’d gotten 1 down, I think that changes my mindset a little bit, my psyche.
“It was in the waste area and there was a little bush just kind of behind it, too. So I had to go through that a little bit and I just tried to play it like a bunker shot, really. Obviously the sand’s a little bit firmer and more compacted. You don’t really know how it’s going to come out. But it just came out perfectly, released down to a couple of feet and Martin conceded it.”
And Kaymer would concede the match six holes later after Donald regained the lead by holing an eight-foot birdie putt on the next hole and extended it by also winning the 12th and 15th, finishing off the match with three more birdies and three pars.
On this day and this week, it was Donald who was No. 1.
–By Tom LaMarre
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