Big cheque for Donald?

2011-09-28 17:35

St. Andrews - Firmly entrenched at the top of the world rankings and leading the money lists on both sides of the Atlantic, Luke Donald has the opportunity to bag another big check at this week's Dunhill Links Championship.

The 33-year-old Englishman is returning to the European Tour after completing his PGA Tour schedule in the United States by finishing tied for third at the Tour Championship, earning him $418 667.

It was another impressive display in what has been a stellar year for Donald, who has topped the rankings since May and won four titles in 2011 - including the Scottish Open at the Castle Stuart links course in July.

A winner's prize of €588 148 ($800 000) is there for the taking this week as five of the world's top six, including defending champion Martin Kaymer of Germany, chase the title at a tournament played over three of Scotland's best courses - the Old Course at St. Andrews, Carnoustie and Kingsbarns.

Famous for being a pro-am event that attracts sports stars and Hollywood celebrities - among the big names present this year are Netherlands football great Johan Cruyff, former Australia cricketer Shane Warne and actors Michael Douglas and Andy Garcia - the Dunhill Links is also a lucrative and prestigious tour title to capture, with Ryder Cup points also at stake.

"To have a good friend in your group and always around you while you play on three wonderful golf courses, it is probably the best week of the year on the European Tour," said Kaymer, who will have his father as a playing partner and brother as his caddie.

While Kaymer and second-ranked Lee Westwood - who have both been ranked No 1 in 2011 - have each won only one tournament this year, Donald has proved a relentless front-runner in the rankings over the past four months.

Apart from Tiger Woods, the last player to have as big a lead at the top of the rankings was Australian great Greg Norman in May 1996.

Donald is attempting to become the first player to win the money titles in Europe and the United States and his consistent game has few flaws. His straight, punchy drives that can eliminate the wind and a deftness around the greens makes him perfectly suited to links golf - as shown when he won a rain-curtailed Scottish Open by shooting 19-under in just three rounds.

He did, however, flop at the British Open a week later, missing the cut to ensure he failed to break his drought in majors.

Westwood, who is also without a major title, is hoping for a change in fortune on the greens as he tries to turn a string of top-10 finishes into wins.

"It's frustrating when I'm giving myself so many chances and not really walking off with the scores I think I should've done," said Westwood, who won the Ballantine's Championship in South Korea in April. "I haven't really had what I consider a good putting round all year. Tee to green, I'm very consistent."

The leading American at the Dunhill Links is fifth-ranked Dustin Johnson, who will have a new caddie this week after Joe LaCava's decision to take over as Woods's bagman as a permanent replacement for Steve Williams.

Other big-name players heading for Scotland include US Open champion Rory McIlroy, Masters champion Charl Schwartzel of South Africa, British Open winner Darren Clarke as well as major winners Graeme McDowell, Ernie Els, Padraig Harrington and Louis Oosthuizen.