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Ultra-consistent Donald looks to double down on money titles

by | CBSSports.com Senior Writer
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Luke Donald says he'll never be confused with Tiger Woods, but 'I've got my own kind of agenda.' (Getty Images)  
Luke Donald says he'll never be confused with Tiger Woods, but 'I've got my own kind of agenda.' (Getty Images)  

EDISON, N.J. -- Luke Donald finished his pro-am round at Plainfield Country Club, had wolfed down his lunch in the clubhouse and conducted some publicity interviews for the folks at the PGA Tour.

Given his recent and future itinerary, most guys would have curled up and taken a siesta. Donald jumped in an electric cart and headed to the driving range.

"I've got a lot to play for," he said.

Actually, here in the long shadow of New York City, purely from a greed-driven standpoint, Donald has more on the line than any player in the game's history.

With the first round of the FedEx Cup series set to begin Thursday at The Barclays, Donald is poised to pull off a Wall Street-sized harvest by becoming the first player to top both the PGA and European Tour money lists in the same season.

That's not a windfall, but a full-blown Category 5 hurricane. He's already No. 1 in the world rankings, yet topping both final money lists in the same year certainly could be considered an even bigger achievement, given the depth of the talent in the global pool and the tight pack of players assembled atop the world rankings.

"He's without a doubt the most consistent player in the world right now," said American standout Nick Watney, who stands second to Donald in PGA Tour earnings. "I think it speaks volumes of how consistently he's played at a very high level."

Remarkably, Donald has been splitting time on two tours without getting a splitting headache. He leads Watney in U.S. earnings despite playing in three fewer events. In Europe, he has made five fewer sanctioned starts than the current No. 2 on the money list, Masters champion Charl Schwartzel.

He has been a model of practical logistics and execution, which will be more crucial now than ever, because he's about to get busier than a Manhattan cabbie working the bars at closing time. Donald is in the midst of a brain-blurring stretch -- playing eight times in a 10-week stretch, including six of the next seven in three different countries.

Which is why the sight of Donald plopping his rear end into a golf cart and heading to the Plainfield range was a bit surprising. He played in a Zurich corporate outing Monday, so the guy must have a reserve tank somewhere. Then again, his classic swing is a tribute to efficiency, isn't it?

"You have to manage your energy a little bit," he said. "If you are dragging, you might cut down a little it. Just be very concise and efficient with your practice."

After he plays the four FedEx series events over the next five weeks -- there's a one-week break in the middle -- Donald heads to Scotland and Spain for a pair of European Tour events before taking a few weeks off to await the birth of the family's second child in November.

By then, he might well have locked up the PGA Tour money title and accompanying Arnold Palmer trophy, which was first awarded in 1981. No Brit has topped the U.S. money list since then.

While Tiger Woods and Vijay Singh conceivably could have won the double-dip money titles, neither took on full membership in Europe, and the road has only gotten steeper in some ways. To retain a card, the tournament minimum has been raised from 11 to 13 over the past two seasons, which means Donald and other dual-members must maximize every at-bat.

Steve Stricker, the top-ranked American in the world, played in a Desert Swing event in Europe earlier this year and is nothing short of amazed at what Donald has achieved while doing the double-vision deal. "That would be very impressive," Stricker said of Donald's double chart-topping goal. "My hat's off to those guys, anyways, that are trying to play both tours. I went over to the Middle East this year, and it's tough.

"They make it look so easy. They travel over there, play well overseas, and then come back over here and play well here -- at least Luke has been, and a lot of the other guys do, too. They make it look pretty easy."

Donald, especially. The last two players ranked No. 1 in the world ranking before him, Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer, were not members of the U.S. tour. Donald got his PGA Tour card in his first crack out of Northwestern a decade ago and has been straddling the Atlantic Ocean as a dual-citizenship member ever since.

In a different tack this year, Donald didn't play in 2011 until Los Angeles, taking a longer offseason to rest and work on some nuances of his game. For instance, he has never driven the ball better than he has this season.

"It's tough when you play both tours," he said. "I took a pretty good chunk of time off at the beginning of the year, but I felt like I needed that time to get away a little bit, to work on my game. It's turned out pretty well."

Donald isn't exactly prone to verbal pyrotechnics, but this is him at his understated best. Turned out pretty well? This season has been like finding all three Kardashian sisters in your hot tub at once. No other player has three combined victories on the two tours in 2011 or has been so annoyingly consistent to his peers.

"It's been a good, solid year," Donald said. "I have been very consistent and given myself a bunch of opportunities, won three times at some pretty good events with good purses."

No question, winning a World Golf Championships event and posting top 10s at two majors provided a healthy lift -- earnings in those events counts toward both money lists. But there's no reason to think Donald will hit the wall anytime soon.

Donald has logged 10 top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour, two more than anybody else, in his 14 starts. Last year, he nearly won the FedEx Cup title, losing by a stroke to eventual champion Jim Furyk when the latter edged him at the series finale in Atlanta.

Donald finished T2 two weeks earlier at the second FedEx stop, the Deutsche Bank Championship outside Boston. At the moment, he's only 50 FedEx points behind the leader, Watney, and points are quadrupled over the next four events.

This thing lines up for Luke like drunken dudes at the ATM on Friday night.

"I had a good run in the FedEx Cup last year," Donald said. "You need to do that. It means more than ever."

The top man in the European tour's seasonal money-list sweepstakes, the Race to Dubai, earns a $1.5 million bonus at the end of the rainbow, too.

"I'm not so much concerned with the money lists, I'm more concerned with winning the Race to Dubai and FedEx Cup," he said. "Winning trophies, rather than the title of being leading money winner, is much more important to me. I'm obviously in a position where I have a great chance. I have a pretty good lead over in Europe, and obviously I'm going to have to play well the next few events.

"Certainly it's a motivating factor. I've been working very hard the past week, and you know, it's nice to have certain things to chase after and focus and it makes everything a little bit more meaningful."

To frame this in real-world terms: Phil Mickelson, for all his victories and physical gifts, has never led the PGA Tour in earnings. Padraig Harrington, who managed to win the Player of the Year trophy on both the PGA and European after claiming two majors in the 2008 season, might be the best-positioned player to offer an opinion as to Donald's fate. He absolutely believes Luke can do it.

"It's hard to do, but it's possible," the talkative Irishman said. "Luke's the No. 1 player in the world and it probably would take the No. 1 player in the world to do it."

It's almost inconceivable to grasp financially, but Donald could reasonably claim all three -- the Race to Dubai, FedEx and U.S. money titles. The cash cache on the line in bonuses money alone is $11.5 million, plus a five-year exemption in the States and seven years on the EuroTour.

So for those who have bemoan the recent lack of a dominant player since Tiger Woods stopped tucking about 33 percent of the game's trophies in his trunk on an annual basis, look again. Donald is doing it his own way by seemingly factoring into the mix nearly every week out.

For the next two months, with the double doubloons on the table on two tours, he'll be out there nearly every week, indeed.

"As much as I believe there's no limits to what I can achieve, I'm pretty realistic knowing that the fact that at my age going on 34 -- it's going to be hard for me to accomplish what Tiger has done in his career," Donald said. "I've got my own kind of agenda, and I'm working toward winning, and winning as much as I can, and winning majors.

"But I feel like if I'm not in contention and don't have chances, then I'm not going to win. And at least I'm giving myself a chance."

At the end, it all adds up rather nicely, doesn't it?

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