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Saturday, April 23, 2011

Luke Donald and Lee Westwood battle to be on top

Luke Donald and Lee Westwood battle to be on top of the world
Driving force: Lee Westwood has a five-shot lead to take into the final round of the Indonesian Masters Photo: EPA

It is over 10,000 miles from South Carolina, scene of Donald’s surge to a one-shot lead at the Heritage Classic, to Jakarta, where Westwood heads the leaderboard by five for Sunday’s final round of the Indonesian Masters. But Britain’s top two are united by their resolve to usurp Martin Kaymer as world No 1 on Monday morning.
Should both win, Donald would take the crown, since the Heritage carries greater ranking points than an Asian Tour event. The discrepancy ought to give Westwood, who provoked surprise by flying out to Indonesia rather than competing in the European Tour’s China Open this week, cause to re-examine his schedule.
Few could dispute that a Donald victory at Hilton Head, against such major champions as Jim Furyk and Stewart Cink, would be more impressive than Westwood’s dominance of a field fleshed out largely by local itinerants. His rise to the summit of the world order would also legitimise the rankings, designed as they are to reward the most consistent player.
None has been more consistently in contention this season than Donald. A man transformed by his February triumph at the Accenture World Matchplay, his first in the US for five years, the 33 year-old has never fallen out of the top 10 at any tournament since. Tied for sixth at Doral, he made another final-day charge for a share of fourth at the Masters.
Donald, who led American Garrett Willis by one at the start of the third round, has earned close to £1.5 million in prize money in the last two months alone. His closing 69 at Augusta, sealed by a chip-in birdie at the last, sparked the extravagant jig that defined his reinvention. Ripping off his visor and pumping his right fist, he gave the lie to those who complained he was too much a model of English reserve.
It was a reminder of the fearless competitor he could be at the Ryder Cup, and of a persona he had too often kept under wraps in chasing his wins on tour. On his own, he appeared too often encumbered by the expectations.
Asked if the incentive of being World No 1 informed his performance at Hilton Head, Donald replied: “I’m playing well, so I guess it’s always in the back of your mind. It’s hard to get away from knowing that, with Twitter and Facebook — you obviously know what’s at stake. It would certainly be an honour and a great achievement.”
It also marked a remarkable turnaround for a man who, not two years ago, had been blamed by a guest American columnist in this newspaper for generating “Luke Donald disease.” The journalist wrote: “Your man from Hemel Hempstead is the personification of what’s wrong with professional golf on both sides of the Atlantic.” The point was that Donald was content just to be remunerated for steady golf, securing top-10 finishes by the back door rather than challenging for titles. How premature that assumption has been made to look. Donald has yet to win a first major, but could never be accused of complacency. Usually a sanguine character, resistant to criticism, he admits to having drawn motivation from the article.
Westwood, though, is poised to take advantage of any slip. Moving to 16 under par at the Royal Jakarta Golf Club, he completed his lightning-delayed second round with a birdie, before adding eight more in a third-round 66. Encouragingly for his form, he managed to avoid his recent wobbles on the greens. “It feels much better, because every decent putt seems to go in and that made me more comfortable,” he said.
“I’ve been in this position before and I’ll try not to get ahead of myself.”

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