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Donald wins Disney to capture money title

By Doug Ferguson
AP Golf Writer / October 24, 2011

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla.—In what Luke Donald considers his biggest win of the year, Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck presented him the trophy.

Disney featured the weakest field of any event Donald has played this year. It's the final tournament of the PGA Tour season, filled with dozens players well down the money list who were desperate to keep their cards for next year. It hardly compares with his wins at the Match Play Championship in Arizona or Europe's flagship event at Wentworth.

Perhaps it was only fitting that after Donald ran off six birdies on the back nine Sunday and closed with an 8-under 64 to win the Children's Miracle Network Classic, he struggled to hoist the bronze trophy over his head.

"It's about a 60-pound trophy," Donald said. "I nearly dropped it on the green."

It felt about as heavy as the burden of expectations he placed on himself all week.

Donald knew that his best chance to win the PGA Tour money title, and state a convincing case that he should be voted player of the year, was to win Disney. He had not played at Disney in eight years, and because his caddie was on his honeymoon, Donald had to borrow Gareth Lord from Thomas Bjorn.

He was five shots behind going into the final round, and four shots back at the turn.

And then he left no doubt who was No. 1 in the world -- or on the PGA Tour.

Starting with a simple up-and-down from just short of the par-5 10th green, Donald unleashed the kind of golf expected out of the world's No. 1 player. He dropped a wedge into 8 feet on the 11th, and an 8-iron to 6 feet on the 12th. Then came a lob wedge to 5 feet on the 13th -- Simpson missed from just outside of him -- and an 18-foot birdie on the 14th to take his first lead.

Then came one of the most moments when everyone should have known -- or at least heard -- that there was no stopping him. Donald rolled in a 45-foot birdie putt for his sixth straight birdie, crouching when it fell, slamming his fist in a rare display of emotion, that sent him on his way.

"I'm thrilled," Donald said. "I'm over the moon."

Three pars was enough to seal his win, which was memorable for so many reasons.

Simpson, who decided to play at Sea Island last week, took over the lead on the money list by $363,029 when he finished second. Simpson was one shot out of the lead -- and two ahead of Donald -- when they made the turn.

By winning, Donald captured the money title with just over $6.68 million -- $335,861 clear of Simpson, who tied for sixth -- and kept alive his bid to become the first player to win the money list on the PGA and European tours in the same season. Donald lead in Europe by about $1.8 million with just over a month to go.

Donald wrapped up the Vardon Trophy for the lowest adjusted scoring average.

It was his second win of the year, as many as anyone else. The last player who won the money title, Vardon Trophy and at least tied for most wins on tour without winning the player of the year award was David Duval in 1998. He was beaten that year by Mark O'Meara, who won two majors. PGA champion Keegan Bradley is the only player with multiple wins and a major this year.

Donald, who finished at 17-under 271 and earned $846,000, was asked to make a case for someone other than him.

"Not sure I could at the moment," he said. "I think I've answered everyone's questions. Coming into this week, I felt like Webb was probably the favorite, based on he was ahead of me on the money list and he was ahead of me in wins this year. Obviously, I've drawn level on wins and I've gotten ahead on money.

"Feels like I've answered all the questions thrown at me."

Simpson wasn't quite sure.

"I don't know yet," said Simpson, who won twice and was No. 2 on the money list and the FedEx Cup. "I think I've played great. Luke has played great. Couple other guys have played well. Still probably up in the air a little bit. But I'm sure I'll vote for myself."

Other than Disney, the biggest win for Donald would have been the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth, where he beat Lee Westwood in a playoff to replace him atop the world ranking. Donald has been No. 1 ever since.

Wentworth is far more significant than Disney.

He had to go head-to-head against Westwood, compared with a collection of players in the hunt at Disney, from Justin Leonard to Kevin Chappell to Nick O'Hern to Billy Mayfair.

But it was the all-or-nothing aspect of the tournament that Donald later summed up on Twitter after he won. "Wow! What a day, it's nice to come up with the goods when I needed them most. That's why I play this game."

"In a way, there was a little bit more on the line this week," Donald said in his press conference. "I felt like if I hadn't won at Wentworth, I felt I was playing well enough that I would have got to No. 1 in the world at some point. Obviously, winning Wentworth was a huge event and it meant a great deal to me.

"But I think having this amount on the line this week, and coming up and shooting 30 on the back nine on Sunday, finding the shots when I needed to, really will mean a lot to me and to all the people that I work with."

Leonard finished with eight pars for a 71. He already is exempt for next year, but kept alive his streak of never finishing out of the top 125 on the money list since joining the tour in 1994.

Tom Pernice Jr., a 52-year-old who refuses to give up on playing with guys half his age, closed with a 69 for a three-way tie for third, earning enough money to finish at No. 121 and earn back his PGA Tour card.

Pernice only moved into the top 125 when Nick O'Hern bogeyed his last hole and fell out of the logjam at third place. On the other side of the Magnolia Course, D.J. Trahan knocked in a 22-foot birdie putt on his last hole at No. 9 -- the second-toughest hole.

That ultimately enabled Trahan to finish at No. 125 on the money list by $1,431 over Bobby Gates.

"I don't know what par would have done," Trahan said. "I really, honestly don't know what difference that would have made, but birdie certainly didn't hurt me. So I'm thrilled that I made that putt."

Donald, however, stole the show.