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X-factor in Donald vs. Simpson: location, location, location

by | CBSSports.com Senior Golf Columnist
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Webb Simpson's two U.S. victories might ultimately be the deciding factor. (AP)  
Webb Simpson's two U.S. victories might ultimately be the deciding factor. (AP)  

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Say this for Webb Simpson.

He might be zeroed in this week on a couple of massive seasonal awards and honors up for grabs in Walt Disney's famous Florida jungle, but he can still see the forest for the trees.

As Simpson prepares to go head-to-head with world No. 1 Luke Donald at the Children's Miracle Network Hospitals Classic, with the PGA Tour's top player and money list honors in play, he still understands that no matter how it plays out, his English adversary is already numero uno in many regards.

While delivering the denouement, the U.S. tour's season finale at Disney World raises an intriguing question, if not a handful of them. To wit, when players vote this fall for the tour's Player of the Year award, should it be given to the best member of the PGA Tour, or the player who had the best season in U.S. events?

Hardly a semantic distinction. So, can the Disney conclusion really be conclusive?

"I think it's clear that for all practical purposes -- and I think most guys would agree -- that he is the best player in the world," Simpson said Wednesday.

To have any reasonable shot at the money title and Player of the Year, the world No. 1 realizes he almost certainly needs to win this week.

"Everyone knows why I'm here," Donald explained Wednesday. "Obviously, I know what I needed to do -- go out there and win the tournament."

Maybe it's not that obvious.

For many reasons, when the player ballot arrives in the mail, plenty of his peers should be checking the little box next to Donald's name regardless. No question, Simpson has had a stellar year, winning twice and losing two other events in playoffs, including last week's McGladrey Classic, where he surged ahead of Donald on the money list. Indisputable facts are that Simpson has posted the lowest 72-hole number four times this year.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla.
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For delicious drama, Simpson and Donald are paired in the first two rounds in what has been billed as the Duel at Disney. But a homonym of the same word supports the claim that Donald is arguably the best, regardless: Dual.

Donald has one victory on the PGA Tour in 2011, but has two more top-10 finishes despite making seven fewer starts in the States than Simpson. He has two victories in top-tier events on the European Tour, including the flagship event at Wentworth.

Simpson has absolutely noticed. Nobody has straddled the two-tour fence, or the Atlantic Ocean, better than Donald, who could become the first double member to top each money list.

"To play both tours and to have the success he's had winning on both tours, being on top of the European Tour money list and on top of the PGA Tour money list most of year is really incredible," Simpson said. "Especially since he has a family and they've been traveling with him. He's just done an incredible job of balancing it all together."

Especially this season, Donald's double golf citizenship ought to be generating admiration and applause. Take a gander at the other players with membership on both tours and how badly they've struggled with the proposition of juggling passports and visas on two continents: On the PGA Tour money list, mega-prominent double members Sergio Garcia (54 in earnings), Graeme McDowell (85), Ernie Els (92), Padraig Harrington (104), Ian Poulter (111) and Paul Casey (131) have barely made a splash on this side of the Pond.

"I've been doing it longer than those guys," Donald laughed.

Not to mention better. Donald moved to the States to attend Northwestern in 1997 and has set up permanent shop here ever since. He blew through Qualifying School in his first try and has juggled the demands of travel and twin tour autocracies like no other player.

"That takes a little bit of time," Donald said of the balance. "No doubt, the U.S. tour is deeper, and it is harder to get in contention every week. It makes the accomplishments a little more satisfying."

A little?

Whether it's enough to attract the votes of his U.S. tour brethren is another issue. Since the Jack Nicklaus Trophy was first awarded to the tour's top player in 1990, none has ever won the award with a single victory. Beating Simpson in a popular vote could be the equivalent of scaling the Disney Matterhorn ride in roller skates. Defending Disney champion Robert Garrigus has already made up his mind.

"I mean, look at how many top 10s [Simpson's] made," Garrigus said. "Almost more than some guys have played tournaments."

Au contraire. Simpson has 11 top-10 finishes in 25 PGA Tour events. Donald has 13 in 18, yet stands $363,029 behind Simpson's earnings mark. Because of the way the POY picture has become clouded -- six players have exactly two victories -- the money title has presumably become a key component in breaking the voting logjam.

Maybe it shouldn’t matter much, veteran Tom Lehman said. Lehman was the last player to claim the money title in the season's final week, securing it with a victory at the season-ending Tour Championship in 1996. He remembers winning, but not much chatter about the money title.

"The money is not a real good gauge," Lehman said. "Maybe if everybody played the 20 tournaments."

If not ....

"The same 20 tournaments," he added.

Otherwise, Lehman said it's "apples and oranges" and akin to determining a home-run champ based on fewer at-bats. "It's like measuring the guy who plays in 162 games against one who played 120," he said.

Donald, 34, might be fighting a stacked deck in other regards.

"What has he made, $6 million?" Garrigus said of Simpson. "That's Tiger money, and that's pretty special. It's pretty neat to see an American do that -- finally."

So now it's us vs. them? Pretty thin viewpoint, especially since Donald is married to an American, has lived here for 15 years, owns two homes in the States and zero in England.

As for providing context, comparisons and contrast, the Player of the Year ballot mailed to members by the tour contains little information beyond a list of names and instructions that read "pick one."

"Obviously, when voting, the players will consider a few things outside of the money," Donald said optimistically. "You know, in terms of not just wins, but the Vardon Trophy and the stroke average. I guess I'm trying to toot my own horn a little bit, but the domination in the world rankings and how many points I've earned this year."

"I've won three times around the world; only once in the U.S. But hopefully, these are things that will be considered."

Hard for some Yanks, especially those of us who reside in Florida, not to chuckle at somebody hoping for an educated electorate to make an enlightened selection. Maybe there's a first for everything.

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