MELBOURNE: Having spent the year crisscrossing the globe to great success, world No. 1 Luke Donald’s 2011 odyssey concludes with a rare trip Down Under to play the Australian Masters at Victoria Golf Club.
After sealing the U.S. PGA Tour money-list at the season-ending Disney Classic, Donald’s 3rd-place finish at the Dubai World Championship Sunday was enough to secure top spot on the European Tour’s Order of Merit, making him the first player to win both tour titles in the same year.
With enough frequent flyer points to secure a trip to the moon and little left to prove, Donald was at pains to convince local media he was still fit and motivated to beat a strong Australian field when the tournament kicks off Thursday.
“I did have a few celebratory drinks [after Dubai], yes. The flyover was a little rough,” Donald, whose Melbourne appearance will be his last tournament for the year, told reporters Wednesday.
“But I’m feeling a lot more rested now. I certainly do have enough fuel in the tank.
“Obviously it’s a lot of travel, but I feel like I managed my schedule pretty well this year. There were a couple times where I got a little bit tired. But right now I certainly have enough to get through this week.”
With multiple major winner Tiger Woods skipping the Australian Masters after returning last year in an attempt to defend his 2009 title, Donald is the headline act in only his second visit to Australia and first as a professional.
The 34-year-old Englishman’s last trip to Australia was as an amateur in the 1990s to play at an event in the industrial hub of Newcastle near Sydney, a world away from Melbourne’s rarefied sandbelt.
Donald might draw some inspiration, however, from the American team that upstaged the Internationals at neighboring Royal Melbourne last month, despite Greg Norman’s Australian-stacked team boasting intimate knowledge of the terrain.
Although 28th-ranked compatriot Ian Poulter and talented Italian teenager Matteo Manassero shape as contenders, Donald’s strongest competition is likely to come from the locals, with former U.S. Open winner Geoff Ogilvy chief among them.
The 42nd-ranked Ogilvy was one of the strongest performers in the losing Internationals team at the Presidents Cup and is a member of the Victoria Golf Club, a short stroll from his Melbourne residence.
“I’m in the mood to win,” Ogilvy told reporters. “This is my home course so I’m pretty motivated to win.” Nevertheless, the Australian said the Victoria Golf Club’s short layout could easily play into the in-form Donald’s hands.
“It’s a good course because it’s not going to challenge his length,” the Australian added.
“He’s been a machine. He finishes top 10 almost every week he tees it up ... It’s been an astonishing year.”
The local contingent vying for the tournament’s “gold jacket” also includes Greg Chalmers, who will bid to become only the second player to win Australia’s three marquee tournaments in the same season after compatriot Robert Allenby.
Chalmers saw off a challenge from American Woods to win the Australian Open in Sydney last month before clinching the Australian PGA tournament in Queensland’s Sunshine Coast.
Holder Stuart Appleby, who upstaged Woods last year to win the Masters by a stroke, is in doubt to defend his title amid back troubles and pulled out of Wednesday’s pro-am.
“Obviously I’ve got to get out here at sparrow’s and give it a test and see how it goes,” he said.