Luke Donald denied Graeme McDowell the world No 3 ranking and shook a monkey off his back when he beat newly-minted No 1 Martin Kaymer 3 and 2 in the final of the $8.5m WGC-Accenture Math Play Championship.
The Englishman (33) moved to world No 3 behind Kaymer and England’s Lee Westwood when he produced another superb short game performance at the desert track outside Tucson to claim the $1.4m top prize and his first PGA Tour win for six years.
After picking up his first win in the US since the 2006 Honda Classic, Donald said: “It feels amazing. I’ve had a bit of a monkey on my back for the five years and it has been a lot of sweat and tears to get to this point but I broke through and it feels really good.”
Donald looked certain to race to an early victory when he went three up after just five holes at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club outside Tucson.
But while Kaymer took advantage of some uncharacteristic errors by his Ryder Cup team mate to level the match by the turn with wins at the sixth, eighth and ninth, the 26-year old German was far from his best.
Having thrown away a three hole lead, Donald made a vital up and down from the waste area at the 10th to remain all square before edging back in front at the par-five 11th, where Kaymer missed a five and a half footer for a half in birdie.
The Dusseldorf star then handed Donald the 208-yard 12th where he pushed his tee shot into the desert waste and could not save par.
Donald, who did not trail at any stage in his six matches, went three up with three to play with a chip and putt birdie at the driveable 15th, where Kaymer missed a three and a half footer for his birdie.
After closing out the match with a solid par three at the 16th, Donald added: “I was a bit shaky in the middle of the round but made good birdies at 11, 13 and 15.
“Hats of to Martin for getting to number one in the world. It is quite an accomplishment and it makes this victory all the sweeter.”
In the era of bomb and gouge, Donald’s win is a triumph for accuracy and short game brilliance.
Explaining that his search for more length some three years ago threw his swing out of kilter for several seasons, Donald said: “Well, just in the last four or five years, every time I come out in the beginning of the season, I play with these new players and they’re all hitting it 30, 40 yards by me, and making courses seem a little bit obsolete.
“I feel like I might be getting shorter. I’m probably not, it’s just my imagination. But I have to work the ball around the golf course a little bit more.
“You know, even playing today against Kaymer, I wasn’t that far behind him. But it’s enough where it makes it a little bit more difficult on the courses we play. If you can hit it far and straight, it’s a big advantage. But that’s why I work hard on my short game.”
Asked why he felt he had struggled to win on the US Tour, Donald said: “I’m not sure why I didn’t win so much, I just think being a little bit short off the tee is a little bit of a disadvantage. But other than that, I’m not sure.
“Certainly the beginning of every year, I sit down and really try and think of ways I can create more opportunities and get more victories. But it didn’t happen so much in the last few years. But hopefully getting past that stage of going a number of years without winning, this will open up the flood gates, as they say.”
With Kaymer taking over from Lee Westwood as world No 1 and Donald at third ahead of McDowell, Europeans hold the top four places in the rankings for the first time since March 1992, when Ian Woosnam, Nick Faldo, José Maria Olazábal and Seve Ballesteros filled the leading four positions. Tiger Woods is now fifth in the world, his worst ranking since the week before his win in the 1997 Masters.
Donald said: “we’ve really had a purple patch on World Golf. Having Lee become No. 1 a few months ago, now Martin No. 1. Obviously Graeme has been playing great. And to make a jump like this is — whether I deserve No. 3 in the world, I don’t know. But certainly in terms of my work ethic and wanting it, then I do deserve it.”
Kaymer had the consolation of a cheque for $850,000 and a move to world No 1 thanks to his run to the final. But he confessed that tiredness and Donald’s shot game brilliance took their toll on him in the final.
“I think he’s definitely one of the most consistent players on the Tour,” Kaymer said. “And 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 it is unbelievable.
“But what Luke is doing at the moment is a joke, you know. Wherever he is, you know that he will make the up-and-down if he doesn’t hole it. And it was impressive.
“And you can always see that I have to work on a few things to get better in my short game. You can always learn from those things. It was a good experience for me. It was a good round. Even though I lost, I still get something out of it.”
Kaymer’s reign world No 1 could be a short one if Westwood bounces back from his second round defeat in Tucson at this week’s Honda Classic.
The Englishman is joined in Palm Beach Gardens by Donald, McDowell and Rory McIlroy.
In the consolation match, American Matt Kuchar beat compatriot Bubba Watson 2 and 1 to earn $650,000.