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Shanghai Surprise: Tour shifts finish line, Donald rightly vexed

by | CBSSports.com Senior Golf Columnist
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Luke Donald did his part with a great Disney win, but then Mickey Mouse stuff happened. (Getty Images)  
Luke Donald did his part with a great Disney win, but then Mickey Mouse stuff happened. (Getty Images)  

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Small wonder that world No. 1 Luke Donald is feeling a little persecuted.

One day after half the planet believed he had effectively nailed down the PGA Tour's top-player award with a stellar, career-defining victory at Disney World, the tour brass moved back the seasonal finish line.

In other words, just as Donald completed a 10-month marathon, another couple of laps were added because of an embarrassing office oversight.

Speaking Tuesday morning on the Golf Channel, Donald said he was less than thrilled to learn that, instead of mailing Player of the Year ballots to his peers this week, the tour elected to push back the mailings until next month because a quasi-official event has yet to be played in China.

Donald characterized the decision as "sketchy," perhaps the most generous term he could have mustered. Boneheaded might have been more accurate.

By any measure, it was a serious Shanghai Surprise.

Apparently, a reporter pointed out to the tour on Monday that the finale at Disney World really wasn't the season terminus because of a scheduling change this season. At that point, the tour realized that the HSBC Champions event set to begin in two weeks in Shanghai, China, is quasi-official and should be included in the Player of the Year discussion, too. The HSBC money doesn't count, but if a member of the PGA Tour wins, it is considered an official career victory and the winner gets the customary multi-year exemption.

You quasi-queasy? The line forms here. Sounding very much chagrined, Donald said he won't add the HSBC event at the moment -- his wife is due to deliver the couple's second child in two weeks.

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"I feel like even if I went to HSBC and won, they'd find another event to add," he said sarcastically.

It's easy to understand the angst. Others feel likewise.

All the guy did Sunday was erase a five-stroke deficit in 10 holes by shooting 30 on the back nine at Disney, becoming the first player in the past 15 years to come from behind to win the money list on the final day of the season

Oops, did I say final? My bad. The tour mis-clubbed us on this one, after giving us a bad yardage. In meters.

On Monday, when it was noted that an HSBC victory by a tour member such as two-time winners Keegan Bradley and Nick Watney, or Masters champion Charl Schwartzel, could affect the Player of the Year balloting, the tour realized the gaffe and held back the ballots, which the tour a day earlier said would be mailed Monday or Tuesday of this week.

Maybe, in light of the gaffe, it's the proper make-up call but that doesn't lessen the embarrassment or unfairness with regard to Donald, does it? Coincidentally or not, it also adds another couple of weeks of seemingly contrived interest to a season that's supposed to be over. That benefits the tour, for sure.

The tour ought to be falling all over itself to apologize to the guy. Donald has been a member for 10 years, a complete class act, and he's been potentially hosed down worse than if he'd taken a log ride at Splash Mountain.

The PGA Tour has so many bogus endings, it's become golf's flashing red light: Stop, start, stop, start. Now Donald needs to add an event in China to defend the POY award from even more interlopers?

He already added and won Disney as a means of chasing history and the tour's top awards. He has played nine of the past 12 weeks on two tours already.

"My schedule isn't going to change right now," he said Tuesday morning. "I think the decision [by the tour] to add HSBC is a little sketchy. Why suddenly change the rule the day after Disney? It doesn't make much sense to me.

"The PGA Tour has never recognized it as official money, it doesn't [fully] count as an event, unlike on the European Tour. With their [the PGA Tour] criteria, why not count all my accomplishments outside the U.S. as well?"

The U.S. circuit has so many false endings, even the tour itself blew it this time. Previously, the HSBC was played before Disney, but not this season.

"To be honest, everything needs to be simplified a little bit for the PGA Tour," said Donald, a U.S. tour member since he blew through Q-school straight after finishing his eligibility at Northwestern. "There doesn't seem to be a beginning and an end.

"You finish the FedEx Cup and you think the season is over, then you have the Fall Series, and you think after Disney that it's over. And now they are adding another event."

The disappointment in his voice was aurally obvious.

Worse, some fans and critics from abroad are bound to interpret the PGA Tour's decision to move the finish line back as a slap at the top international player in the game -- and guess what, it certainly creates that impression. Would they have done this to Tiger Woods? Conspiracy theorists, feel free to discuss.

All Donald has done is move within reach of becoming the first double tour member to win the money title on two circuits, and claim the top-player award on both. Adding Disney sent a message to his PGA Tour peers that those honors are important to him.

Then, after hitting all the hero shots at Disney, somebody yanked Aladdin's magic carpet from under his feet.

"Creating history is important to me -- that's why I added Disney to give myself that chance of making history," Donald said. "My wife is due in a couple of weeks, we've got another little one on the way and that's pretty important in the grand scheme of things. Certainly, making history on the golf course is also important."

The due date of the couple's daughter is effectively the same week as the China event. Diane Donald gave birth to their first child, Elle, 20 months ago and several weeks early. Thus, his schedule regarding China is subject to the caprices of childbirth, versus the tour's seasonal scheduling, which is seemingly subject to the coin-tosses of cluelessness.

"Not unless my wife decides to have the baby very soon," he said of adding the HSBC. "It's very important to be around for her, to experience that."

If Diane Donald delivers the baby tomorrow, Donald would be faced with a dilemma, complicated by the tour's blunder. Instead of playing the HSBC event because he wants to, he might need to play because he has to.

Shanghaied, indeed.

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