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In the swing: Donald's stellar season leaves us hungry for more

“2011 is done and dusted, but 2012 can’t come quick enough,” writes golf columnist Neil Cullen as we put a lid on a brilliant year.

Image: Kamran Jebreili/AP/Press Association Images

IN THE END it was a bit of a formality, as Rory McIlroy’s challenge faded along with his energy levels, while Luke Donald progressed up the leaderboard, capping his performance with three birdies in the final three holes.

Alvaro Quiros won the tournament on the day with some fine golf, but his win was overshadowed by Luke Donald securing the European Tour money list and becoming the first player ever to top the money list on both the European and PGA Tours in the same season.

2011 will almost certainly be remembered as Luke Donald’s year. He spent over six months as the world number one and rewrote the history books.

There are a couple of moments that stand out along the way. His win at the WGC Accenture Matchplay in Arizona in February got the season off to a brilliant start. He never really looked back from there.

He may have narrowly missed out at the US Masters, but a chip-in at the 72nd hole saw him tie for fourth and pick up important earnings and world ranking points.

Soon after, he won one of the biggest events on the European Tour, the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth. He beat Lee Westwood in a playoff and in doing so overtook Westwood in the rankings to become the world number one.

A win at the Barclays Scottish Open followed and then came a thrilling finale at the Disneyland PGA Tour event, where he made six consecutive birdies on the final day to win by two shots and take the PGA Tour money list.

Winning obviously goes a very long way to achieving end of season glory, but even when he wasn’t winning, Donald was performing exceptionally well. He had two runner-up finishes and five top-10 finishes, meaning that in 13 European Tour events played, he only finished outside the top-10 on three occasions.

The tributes to Donald compiled by europeantour.com from various top players and former greats go a long way to putting Donald’s play in context and help us realise what an unbelievable season it really was. Alvaro Quiros was the winner of the weekend’s tournament, but even he couldn’t hold back from lavishing praise upon his opponent.

He’s unbelievable. You can never leave this guy behind. He’s always coming back, always coming back and trying to spoil the party for the rest of us! I heard a statistic about his third round stroke average this year is 67.5. That’s unbelievable.

Bright future

For Rory McIlroy, it proved to be just one step too far. Even if he had been fully fit, Donald’s third place finish would have been enough for him to take home the money list, regardless of McIlroy’s performance.

As the season comes to a close, our mouths have been left watering for the season ahead. Luke Donald has to be the man to beat, but there are so many quality players who aren’t going to give him an inch.

The most obvious one is McIlroy himself. As well as winning a Major this season, he also had his first season as a multiple winner and there’s no doubt that he’ll kick-on from that next season.

Tiger Woods got back to winning ways the previous weekend and will be back on every player’s radar.

We can’t forget that Martin Kaymer and Lee Westwood have both been world number one in the last 12 months and have the ability to win on any given weekend.

And that’s only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to top players who can win the big events.

Most players will be taking a much needed break over the festive period, but the new season will be upon us before we know it when we’ll be back out to the Middle East for the HSBC Championship in Abu Dhabi in January. Martin Kaymer has won there three times in the last four years, but the field is going to be stacked. All the above-mentioned are booked in.

The critics of the Tiger era often argued that there was not enough competition, when he wasn’t there, some said there was no stand-out figure to drive the game. Now we have both. Tiger is back on the radar and there’s a host of the finest players in the world with whom he’ll have to lock horns.

2011 is done and dusted, but 2012 can’t come quick enough.

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