This really is another golden-age for European golf. If we cast our minds back to the mid-noughties, we remember a time when Europe merely longed for a sole representative amongst the golfing elite, as the game was dominated by Woods, Mickelson, Els, Singh et al. with a vast eight year gap opening up between European major championship wins. Now, in 2012, we on this side of the pond strut around golfing circles with an unusually warm sense of smugness. Occupying five of the top ten places of the Official World Golf Rankings, including the top four spots, we find ourselves dominating the game.
Within those rankings we find our two main golfing protagonists Luke Donald and Rory McIlroy. The 34 year-old father of two from the Home Counties and the precocious 22 year-old limelight-seeking Northern Irishman couldn’t really give off more different public personas, but find themselves now fully engaged in an on-going rivalry atop the world game.
Donald was first to take up the mantle in May of last year when deposing fellow Englishman Lee Westwood from the number 1 spot on a thrilling final day of the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth. Up until that point, Donald had accumulated an admirable career, including a formidable Ryder Cup record, without truly making his mark at the top of the sport. However, a remarkable 2011 season that saw him win on four occasions around the world and become the first man to officially top the European and US Money Lists, meant he was thrust to the forefront of the golfing public’s psyche.
There’s much to admire in Bucks born golfer’s game as well. In the age of the athletic bomber Donald plays the role of the Renaissance man, working with pin point accuracy and a ridiculously tidy short game, to demonstrate that brains can still out-do brawn. His latest win at last week’s Transition’s Championship in Florida demonstrated another recent addition to his game that will give him great confidence heading into the first major of the season: the ability to execute under pressure. One US based golf journalist once referred to a ‘Luke Donald Disease’ being present amongst modern tour pros, labelling Donald as a prime example of a player that could accumulate the big pay cheques for high finishes without getting the wins. Unjustified as the criticism was, it stung Donald into cutting a colder, more clinical persona on the course. His latest two wins confirm this, the back nine of 30 he shot at the end of last year to win at Disney and claim the US money title, and the superb 7-iron he struck on the first play-off hole last weekend to clinch the Transitions title, and regain the number 1 ranking from McIlroy, indicating a golfer more trusting in his ability to get over the line on Sunday.
McIlroy’s rise to the top has been rather more meteoric. An incredible natural talent, he managed to claim the number 1 ranking at the Honda Classic three weeks ago at the age of just 22, even if he has already had it taken back off him. There’s no denying his technical prowess and ability to excite, his 8-shot romp to victory at last year’s US Open being clear evidence of the American gallery’s admiration for him. This admiration of course leads to more intrusion into his private life away from golf and thus thrusts him into the spotlight far more than Donald. Even with this in mind, his own PR has not been plain sailing over the last year, with his twitter-row with commentator Jay Townsend and disrespectful comments about The Open Championship both causing considerable media attention.
But, forget about all that, the bare facts are that these two have been easily the most consistent players in the world, each having 24 top 10 finishes in that time as well as a combined 11 wins, over the last two years and rightly sit on top of the rankings. McIlroy has the major and aspires to Donald’s prolonged consistency in the US. Donald on the other hand has the consistency issue sorted wherever he plays, but still yearns for that first major championship to silence any lingering (and normally American) naysayers about his position as the World’s best player. Let’s all just hope their rivalry can continue at the same pace and that this period of European dominance hangs around for a long while to come.
Bring on The Masters!
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