It was a year ago at Wentworth that Luke Donald ascended to the top of the golfing pile, outlasting Lee Westwood in a play-off to win the BMW PGA Championship and oust his fellow Englishman as world number one.
Starting today, Donald the grinder will have the natural, Rory McIlroy, in his sights with the same objective come Sunday evening.
There may be no top-drawer Americans in the field this week for the European Tour’s flagship, €4.5m event but having the world’s top three – McIlroy, Donald and Westwood – in the field more than compensates. And with more world-ranking points on offer on this side of the Atlantic than in the PGA Tour’s corresponding event, Wentworth’s West Course is definitely the place to be.
Donald is clearly to the manor born on this Surrey parkland, a son of the English Home Counties whose formative years were spent watching his golfing idols tackle the Burma Road course in this prestigious tournament and the annual World Match Play. His win here last year in taking him to the top of the rankings brought the journey full-circle and helped him secure an unprecedented 95% of the votes for the European Tour’s player’s player of the year award, which he received at the annual tour dinner on Tuesday night.
Yesterday, the man who won both the European and US money lists in 2001 was further honoured when he was awarded honorary life membership of the European Tour but having spoken of his admiration for McIlroy’s effortless power, the current world number two explained his rise to the top was built on different foundations.
“I don’t really watch myself play that much so it’s hard for me to talk about myself in those terms,” Donald said.
“I feel like if I don’t work hard and grind it out, I’m not going to be that successful. It’s just not that easy for me. I can’t take weeks off, come back and expect to hit it well.”
That grind has so far this season earned Donald a victory at the Transitions Championship in Florida on the PGA Tour and top-10 finishes at Doral in the WGC-Cadillac Championship, The Players Championship and the Zurich Classic of New Orleans.
He is primed to add to the victory roll and there would be no better feeling than a successful title defence.
“I think any time you’re coming back to a place with such good memories, you feel good about it. So I’m excited to be back here and glad to have a chance to go back to number one.”
Messrs McIlroy and Westwood may have something to say about that, of course, to name but two in a strong European field also featuring world number 10 Justin Rose, number 11 Martin Kaymer and Graeme McDowell, ranked 18th.
McIlroy and McDowell lead an Irish contingent also featuring British Open champion Darren Clarke, Pádraig Harrington, Michael Hoey, Peter Lawrie, Shane Lowry, Paul McGinley, Damien McGrane, Gareth Maybin and Irish PGA Regional qualifiers David Higgins and Barrie Trainor.
Lowry will tee off today with warm feelings from his birdie-birdie-eagle finish to his final round a year ago that earned him fourth place and the biggest cheque of his career, €191,100, since turning pro.
Like Donald, Harrington is a grinder who benefits from a run of tournaments and his top-20 finish in Texas last week could have built sort of momentum he requires to become the first Irish winner at Wentworth since Harry Bradshaw in 1958.
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