Luke Donald moved past Tiger Woods as No. 3 in golf’s world rankings by beating Martin Kaymer in the Match Play Championship final to secure his first title in the U.S. since 2006.
Donald, a 33-year-old Englishman, won the first of the year’s four World Golf Championships events against new No. 1 Kaymer 3-and-2, meaning he led by three holes with two left to play. The win at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club’s Dove Mountain course in Marana, Arizona, was worth $1.4 million.
Donald’s victory yesterday lifts him six places in the Official World Golf Ranking and gives Europe the top four players for the first time since 1992. Woods, who was eliminated in the first round and hasn’t won a tournament in 15 months, drops to No. 5. Lee Westwood of England gives way to Kaymer and Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland climbs to No. 4.
“We’ve really had a purple patch in European golf,” Donald told reporters. “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.”
Donald never trailed in his six matches and set a tournament record by reaching the final after playing 73 holes out of a possible 90. He’s the only golfer to have won the title without playing the 18th hole.
Donald now has three titles in 200 starts on the U.S. PGA Tour, with his previous victory coming at the Honda Classic five years ago. The last of his three individual wins on the European Tour was at the 2010 Madrid Masters.
“It’s been a long time since I won in the U.S. and to come here and beat the top 63 players in the world is very gratifying,” Donald said. “I felt like I hadn’t won my fair share for as good a player as I felt I was.”
Donald, who is 5-foot-9 and 160 lbs (1.75 meters, 72 kg), ranked 177th in driving distance on the PGA Tour in 2010 and 120th in accuracy from the tee. To compensate, he was fourth in making par from off the green, or scrambling, first in saving par from greenside bunkers and tied for eighth for the fewest number of putts per round.
“I need to get better off the tee, a little bit straighter for the distance I hit it,” Donald said. “I’m very diligent about working on my short game. I know that with my game off the tee and some of my iron play there’s room for improvement if you look at my statistics, but I make up for it around the greens.”
Kaymer, 26, has won seven tournaments in two years, including the U.S. PGA Championship in August, his first major title. He takes over as world No. 1 today from Westwood, who ended Woods’s record 281-week run atop the rankings on Nov. 1.
‘Enjoying the Moment’
“I was very relaxed (yesterday) morning and was enjoying the moment a little bit, knowing I will become the No. 1 in the world,” Kaymer said. “For us to make golf even more popular in the world, it’s fantastic to have four Europeans up there. It was always Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.”
Westwood, who was ranked as low as 266th eight years ago, was the first European player to top the list since Nick Faldo in 1994. Kaymer will become the 14th player to lead the rankings and the second German after Bernhard Langer, the inaugural world No. 1 in 1984.
The finalists arrived on the first tee bundled up against temperatures of about 45 degrees Fahrenheit (7 Celsius). Dove Mountain is at an elevation of about 3,000 feet (914 meters) and at dawn yesterday the iconic saguaro cacti that dot the desert landscape were covered by about an inch of snow.
Donald took the lead with a birdie at the second hole. Play was then held up briefly at the fourth by a flurry of hailstones before Donald doubled his advantage with a birdie.
Kaymer bogeyed the next to drop three behind and rallied to tie the match by the ninth hole.
Donald retook the lead for good at No. 11, moved two ahead at the next with a second straight birdie and went three up with as many to play with another birdie at No. 15.
Kaymer, who needed to win the remaining holes to keep the match alive, conceded at the 16th hole.
It was the second straight all-European Match Play final after Ian Poulter beat fellow Englishman Paul Casey last year.
In yesterday’s third-place playoff, Matt Kuchar beat Bubba Watson 2-and-1.
The next WGC event is the Cadillac Championship, scheduled March 10-13 in Miami. That’s followed by the Bridgestone Invitational in August and November’s HSBC Champions in Shanghai.