Donald Makes His Case For PGA Tour’s Player Of The Year


Luke Donald can only hope that shooting 30 on his last nine holes to win the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Classic was the hard part.

His sole reason for entering the final PGA TOUR event of the year was to keep alive his bid to become the first dual-member to win the money title on both sides of the Atlantic. The bonus of capturing the PGA TOUR money title was that it surely would make him the frontrunner, if not the overwhelming favorite, as Player of the Year.

Donald was better than everyone on the TOUR in two of the most relevant categories — money and scoring average. He and six others tied for most wins (two). Of that group, only Keegan Bradley won a major.

More telling is that in 14 of his 19 tournaments, Donald finished in the top 10. That’s a rate of 74 percent, a level of consistency matched only by Tiger Woods in the last 15 years. There’s a reason he has been No. 1 in the world since May.

And if that’s not enough, the CMN Hospitals Classic provided a rare head-to-head competition with Donald and Webb Simpson playing in the same group all four days. In a winner-take-all situation, Donald birdied six straight holes on the back nine to win.

The ballots go out in two weeks, after the HSBC Champions in Shanghai, where the only person who could possibly cloud the decision is Bradley. Even though he has missed 10 cuts and only has four top 10s, he could attract votes with three wins, including a major and a World Golf Championship (should he win in Shanghai). Bradley also won the HP Byron Nelson Championship in May.

Andy Pazder, the TOUR’s Chief Operating Officer, said the TOUR’s decision to wait until after the HSBC Champions to send out ballots was “important because it’s an official win for a member, and that should hold the ballot open. When we send out the ballot, we have a brief summary of the player’s year on the PGA TOUR. It would be a glaring omission if someone won the tournament and that wasn’t on there.”

But Donald didn’t appear to agree with that decision.

“I think the decision to add HSBC is a little sketchy, at best,” Donald told the Golf Channel’s “Morning Drive” show on Tuesday. “Why suddenly change the rule the day after Disney? It doesn’t really make much sense to me. The PGA TOUR has never really recognized [HSBC] as official money. It doesn’t count as an event, unlike it does on the European Tour. With that criteria, why not count all my accomplishments outside the U.S. as well?”

Asked why he thought the TOUR decided to wait push back its delivery of the ballots, Donald replied: “Who knows? To be honest, I think everything needs to be simplified a little bit for the PGA TOUR. There doesn’t seem to be a beginning and an end.

“You finish the FedExCup and you think the season’s over and then you’ve got the Fall Series, and you think after Disney it’s over, and now they’re adding another event. I feel like even if I went to HSBC and won, they’d find another event to add.”

Donald laughed at his last statement but either way, picking the winner is not as easy as it should be.

Remember, this is a vote of the players.

Luke Donald Wins Two PGA of America Awards

Luke Donald has won both the 2011 PGA of America Player of the Year Award and the Vardon Trophy for lowest adjusted scoring average.

Donald becomes the second native of England to win the PGA of America Player of the Year award, joining Nick Faldo (1990), and he is the second Brit to capture the Vardon Trophy, first presented to “Lighthorse” Harry Cooper in 1937.

The PGA of America’s Player of the Year award is based on a points system. Donald earned 60 total points, based upon 20 points for winning two PGA TOUR titles, along with winning the season’s money title and dominating the season scoring average (68.86).

Webb Simpson, who made a late-season surge with a pair of victories, finished runner-up in both the PGA Player of the Year and Vardon Trophy races with 56 points. Nick Watney was third with 48 points, followed by Steve Stricker with 42 and PGA champion Keegan Bradley with 40.

In dominating the Vardon Trophy race, Donald registered 73 complete rounds to garner the award that is computed based upon adjusted season scoring average. Runner-up Simpson averaged 69.25 based upon 98 rounds, and Stricker was third with 69.36 after 70 rounds.

Perhaps it’s only a coincidence that as TOUR members start deliberating on player of the year, EA Sports announced the winners of a contest in which fans voted to determine who would join Woods on the cover of its next video game. The winners were Rickie Fowler and Rory McIlroy, two of the most popular young players in the game.

The hope is that player voting doesn’t turn into a popularity contest, too.

A year ago, Fowler was chosen PGA TOUR Rookie of the Year over McIlroy in a vote that made little sense. Fowler finished just four spots ahead of McIlroy in the money list (No. 22 to No. 26), but failed to win a tournament. McIlroy not only shot 62 on the last day to win at Quail Hollow, he finished third in two majors.

Then again, the case could be made that Fowler was a true rookie devoted exclusively to the PGA TOUR, while McIlroy was in his third full year as a pro and spent most of his time on the European Tour.

Could something like that happen again?

Robert Garrigus said he had made up his mind before the tournament even started last week.

“I would vote for Webb,” he said. “I mean, he’s had such an unbelievable year. If you look at how many top 10s he’s made (12), it’s almost more than some guys have played in tournaments. What has he made, $6 million? That’s Tiger money, and that’s pretty special.

“And not taking anything away from anything Luke has done, but it’s pretty neat to see an American do that — finally.”

So much for looking at performance over passport on the PGA TOUR.

Then there was Scott Gutschewski, who played with Donald and Simpson in Sunday’s final round at the Magnolia course at Disney and witnessed a performance that he described several times simply as “awesome.”

Does this clear up who wins player of the year? Gutschewski suddenly was at a loss for words.

“Is he the best player in the world? Probably,” he said almost begrudgingly. “Playing part-time on the PGA TOUR, does he get the Player of the Year? It’s a good argument. It’s a tough call.”

Just because Donald is English does not make him a part-time player.

The NCAA champion from Northwestern has been a regular in America since 1997. He has two homes, none in England — one is his primary residence outside Chicago, the other in south Florida. Donald has averaged 20.5 starts a year since his rookie season in 2002. Not even Woods plays that many.

The rookie vote last year also took place after Europe won the Ryder Cup (again). Is that a factor? It shouldn’t be, but with so much attention on the rise of world golf — particularly European golf — there has been a noticeable “us against them” mentality among some Americans.

“Obviously when it comes to voting, there’s going to be some leniency toward your friends,” Donald said. “There’s still more American players on the U.S. tour, and I’m sure Rickie has more followers and peers that follow him on the U.S. tour. Again, it’s a vote, so it’s totally subjective.”

Donald was asked if he could make a case for anyone else as Player of the Year, an awkward question in the immediate aftermath of the most gratifying win of his career.

“Not sure I could at the moment,” he said. “I think I’ve answered everyone’s questions.”

No matter what happens in Shanghai, the lasting image when it comes to Player of the Year should be the CMH Hospitals Classic.

Except for two majors — Charl Schwartzel making birdie on his last four holes to win the Masters, McIlroy obliterating the scoring record at the U.S. Open to win by eight — Donald’s final round at Disney might have been the best performance of the year.

Forget for a moment that Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck presented him the bronze trophy.

It’s a rare occasion in golf when a player knows an opportunity might never come along again, and it’s win or else. Think back to Woods in the 2001 Masters attempting to become the only player to hold all four professional majors.

That’s why Donald’s win on Sunday rates so high. A chance like this might not come along again, and he seized it in a manner expected of the No. 1 player in the world.

“Obviously coming into this week, I felt like Webb was probably favorite, you know, based on he was ahead of me on the Money List and he was ahead of me on wins this year,” Donald said. “(I’ve) obviously drawn level on wins and I’ve gotten ahead on money.”

It was the kind of performance only seen from Woods at the height of his game.

Think of it this way. What if it had been Woods who, in the final tournament of the year that he had to win, shot 30 on the back nine? What if it had been Woods who had as many wins as anyone else, including a World Golf Championship? What if it had been Woods who won the money title and the Vardon Trophy and had 74 percent of his finishes in the top 10?

Would there even be a discussion?

PGA Tour