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Pond Scrum: Year ends with complete consensus on Donald

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Charl Schwartzel recording birdies on the last four holes to win the Masters was a 2011 highlight. (Getty Images)  
Charl Schwartzel recording birdies on the last four holes to win the Masters was a 2011 highlight. (Getty Images)  

FORFAR, Scotland -- They were physically separated by an ocean and, at times, at least as much philosophical territory.

Like putting away a set of golf clubs for the winter, stashing them in a closet somewhere where the shafts won't rust, they have put away their pens and notebooks.

Nobody kept score of the year's Pond Scrum matches, pitting European Tour correspondent John Huggan and CBSSports.com senior golf columnist Steve Elling in a weekly alternate-shot pairing of wits, if not whiffs. Just as well. Unlike with world No. 1 Luke Donald, there was no obvious overall victor for the year.

At least, in the spirit of sportsmanship, that's what they're saying publicly.

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With the European Tour season finale having concluded Sunday in the United Arab Emirates, both major tours have closed up shop for the moment to settle in for a short winter's nap, as the holiday poem says. That means Pond Scrum is shifting it into park too.

In their last transcontinental tiff of the year, Huggan and Elling compare notes on the astounding ascendance of Donald, track a few salient news developments and select their personal tournament highlights for the year.

To the very end, two guys from two different continents couldn't find much common ground on the latter, either.

All hail the new king, Luke Donald, who finished an impressive third in the European Tour finale over the weekend and moved even farther ahead in earnings, becoming the first man to top the money lists on both the major tours in the same season. Put it in perspective for us, lads.

Elling: Is he the king of bling? It's been a defining season for Donald. It's almost funny now to think that his tournament year started with a missed cut and a 79 in the second round at Riviera. I guess those vicious L.A.-based golf scribes ate him up. You know, those TMZ beat writers can be vicious.

Huggan: Donald has redefined the word "consistent" this year. That 79 you mentioned was the only round he shot over 75 all year. And here's something you didn't know: Since he turned pro nearly a decade ago, he has never missed a cut in a regular European Tour event.

Elling: Wow, that might be the most impressive stat of the year. Incomprehensible, really. Oh, right, context. Well, no player had ever before won the money titles while maintaining membership on both tours, which by my count means playing in at least 21 events (four majors plus three WGC events count toward both tour membership minimums) annually across the transoceanic spectrum. Clearly Donald isn't all tapped out. He's headed this week to the Aussie Masters to play yet again.

Huggan: He has also won over $9 million this year on the course. He broke 70 46 times in 82 stroke play round. In the 25 events he played on the PGA and Euro Tours, he was in the top 10 17 times. Oh yes, he played in two match play events too. Won one, lost in the final of the other.

Elling: Don't forget that $1 million bonus he got from his clothes manufacturer for topping the U.S. money list. Wonder if he got any extra for being numero uno in Europe? It's been a watershed year, financially and in terms of his reputation.

Huggan: He got $1.5 million for topping the Race to Dubai. Hard to imagine his PGA Tour peers could vote anyone else Player of the Year eh?

Elling: It's been noted before that Tiger Woods would have won the money title on both tours, but he never joined the European circuit and never played in the minimum number of events (11 at the time). Yeah, that's both true and impressive, but as meticulously as Woods plots his schedule, adding the required events to keep his European card might have hurt or diluted his performances in the majors, where he compiled most of his dinero. Hard to say how it would have turned out with complete certainty, though he could have added another Desert Swing event with little stress or strain.

Huggan: I think you are talking bollocks re Tiger "hurting" himself by adding one or two events. His domination back then was almost total, and it's time you got used to that notion.

Elling: Who says I'm not used to it, or impressed by it? I sang his praises as much as any scribe at the time. Just suggesting that he had a million chances to join the overseas tour, but did not, because his years were so carefully orchestrated and his energies so carefully managed. Well, his on-course energies.

Huggan: There was one year, I think, where he was one event short of being eligible. Even then he didn't bother to make the effort. So clearly he didn't care even a little about what Donald has just achieved. Which maybe tells us something before I get too carried away in praise of the half-Scottish No. 1.

Elling: In contrast to Sir Eldrick, Donald added events at the end of the season to pull off the double-whammy and succeeded. He gave fans another reason to watch, and care, all the way into December. "I got what I came for, and that was to win the Race to Dubai and do the double and create history," he said. Something to hang his visor on.

Huggan: Donald played the round of the year at Disney too. Ten birdies in his last 18 holes to clinch the money title would surely have impressed even Tiger.

Elling: As you indicated, on Tuesday, the PGA Tour will announce its Player of the Year. If it's not Donald, then I encourage outraged fans to put dog pooh in paper bags and light the sack on the tour doorstep. Sorry, Webb Simpson, but the record is clear. Donald was the transcendent player in both dollars and common sense. By the way, no voting totals will be released, which puts the whole process under suspicion to me.

Huggan: Anything is possible when an American electorate is concerned. Look at some of the presidents you have elected recently. And don't forget Rickie Fowler "winning" Rookie of the Year in 2010 when Rory McIlroy was obviously superior.

Elling: Not to mention that this vote tally will be counted and announced in Florida, where election results are printed in pencil, in case we need to adjust 'em later.

Huggan: Will there be any chads, hanging or otherwise?

Elling: There will be some hangings if Donald doesn't win the vote.

Speaking of Disney, the game's two major tours have reached the finish line for the season. Each of you, pick a 2011 highlight or two and explain why.

Elling: I have a couple, actually. Without question, the craziest scene of the season was the last two hours at the Masters, where nearly everybody, including Tiger Woods, had a chance at the title before underrated Charl Schwartzel birdied the last four holes to win. Nobody had ever done it in the history of stroke play at the major championships. He restored some order to a chaotic scene where nobody had the slightest clue who might win. There was even a trio of Aussies in the mix, and nobody from Down Under has ever won the green jacket. Insanity, in the best sense.

Huggan: Shot of the year has to be Rory McIlroy's tee shot at the water-strewn 10th at Congressional in the final round of the U.S. Open. When he stiffed it, the event was as good as over. The last eight holes were but a stroll in the park.

Elling: A worthy pick. Skipping forward, the last hour of the PGA Championship was riveting too. For rookie Keegan Bradley, set to be named the PGA Tour Rookie of the Year on Tuesday, coming from five shots down with three holes left to play is nothing short of a miracle -- in his first major championship. Pretty darned unforgettable.

Huggan: And anyone with a soul had to be happy when Darren Clarke won our Open. After what that man has been through the last few years, only the stoniest heart could not be glad for him. Darren also provided the year's funniest moment too, when he showed up for a press conference the next morning without having seen his bed and ... how to put this? A little worse for wear.

Elling: Are you suggesting that he might have sacrificed a few brain cells in the name of celebrating a victory that nobody saw happening?

Huggan: Actually, half an hour before the day-after presser, Darren was still wearing the clothes in which he had won the Claret Jug the day before. Only some hurried persuasion from manager Chubby Chandler got him to make a quick change.

Elling: Saving his best for last, it doesn't get any more impressive than Donald making birdies on the first six holes of his final round on the PGA Tour to win the title at Disney World and cement the seasonal cash dash. Especially when he knew he needed to win to have a reasonable chance of topping the money list. If everybody delivered the goods with such timely effectiveness ... we wouldn't need FedEx.

Huggan: As for my 2011 highlights, it has led to a problem over here. Donald, McIlroy and Clarke have all been nominated for the prestigious BBC Sports Personality of the Year award. Which probably means that none of them will win with the golf vote split three ways. Pity, but a good indication of how healthy the game is over here at the top level.

Elling: To digress a moment, and while I love those guys, I think Alvaro Quiros, the magnetic Sunday winner in Dubai, might be more telegenic than all three.

Huggan: Quiros is a great lad. He is a big kid really and acts like one too. He is brilliant with small children, all of whom naturally gravitate towards him. He is a great advertisement for golf in that respect, unlike some others I could mention.

Elling: Unlike some we have mentioned.

In an important bit of housekeeping, the European Tour extended its rich season-ending event another three years, set for the same venue in Dubai, adding even more money to the total prize, the biggest on that particular circuit. How important is this in the big picture?

Huggan: The money is window-dressing, the venue is face-saving. Last week the Earth course at the Jumeirah Estate was the same building site it was two years ago. It adds a surreal atmosphere to the tournament. I keep expecting to see Clint Eastwood in his "man with no name" persona emerging from the half-finished homes lining the fairways.

Elling: I think it's a pivotal development, really. With a purse of $8 million, the cumulative, season-long race and finale, which will undergo yet another name change, are crucial in terms of keeping the tour somewhat abreast of the U.S. tour, which has far deeper pockets. The big boys from Europe needs a reason to keep European Tour cards, lest they drift off to the States in search of FedEx lucre. The Race to Dubai suffered a setback when the purses were pared because of the economy two years ago, so it was important to regain this traction.

Huggan: In passing, one guy who must have been happy at the outcome in Dubai last week was Jose Maria Olazabal. It's early, of course, but his European Ryder Cup team is shaping up to be maybe the best ever. Look for Sergio Garcia and Paul Casey to return, for example. Both of whom will make the side better than in 2010.

Elling: So, if I have the news right, the Race to Dubai will be rebranded in honor of the new title company, DP World. Pity, because I sort of liked the short-hand moniker, R2D. Is the new title C3PO? Sorry for the Star Wars reference. Lived very near George Lucas' hometown, Modesto, Calif., while an undergrad. No Luke Skywalker Donald lines come to mind at the moment, thankfully.

Huggan: You do bear a close resemblance to Jabba the Hut.

Elling: Because chicks hang all over me, you mean? As for loose financial ends, remind me, John, when does the FedEx sponsorship, which runs around $35 million annually, expire? Oh, right, after the 2012 series. Guess that fat sponsorship deal hasn't yet been renewed, or the Ponte Vedrans would have trumpeted it to the heavens by now. Looks like the E-Tour is 1 up at the moment on paper.

Huggan: What was significant re the Race to Dubai announcement was the absence -- so far at least -- of the bonus pool. Not sure that will make an appearance next year. Which is not that bad a thing, to be honest. Was appearance money in all but name anyway.

What is the heck is dengue fever and is Rory McIlroy a burnout victim?

Elling: Interestingly, it seemed like the physical state of world No. 2, McIlroy, usurped some of the notice that Donald, the reigning No. 1, warranted last week in Dubai. How many countries has Rory visited since the PGA Championship? I have long since quit counting.

Huggan: Rory is fine long-term. He just has a bug right now. I bet he is up and about again within days. Nothing to see here folks, move along now.

Elling: Seems to me that there were a few too many appearance fees chased at the end of the year, even for an energetic, appealing kid like McIlroy. He and his new management crew better think long and hard about how they will plot out 2012, when he is renewing his U.S. tour card and the proper travel cadence is nearly as important as swing tempo. This kid is a franchise player.

Huggan: But you are right about his scheduling. And he admitted last week that he won't be doing anything like it again. This was a one-off he thought he could handle, but was wrong.

Huggan: And dengue fever? No idea. But someone did tell me that if he really had it, he wouldn't have been playing golf last week. Again, moving right along. Elling: Did he articulate a broad plan for 2012? Any idea when we will see him on this side of the Pond? He ought to take whatever notes Luke can provide and photocopy 'em.

Huggan: Rory's tour schedule next year will be pretty much the same as this year, with one exception. Instead of playing in Europe after the PGA, he'll be competing in the FedEx playoffs. Otherwise, no change. It's not that complicated.

Elling: Well, that's good news in a couple of regards. It also means he'll likely be just as fried as the American side for the Ryder Cup, because he will have competed six times in eight weeks. It's all a sinister American plan, you know.

Huggan: I hadn't thought of that. But since when did the Ryder Cup factor into anything wee Timmy Finchem does? Not often, I bet. In fact, I can picture him sticking pins into Samuel Ryder dolls at night when he has nothing better to do.

Elling: If Casey, McDowell, Westwood, Sergio, Poulter and the usual suspects all make the Ryder side, everybody on both teams will be a bit on the crispy side for the Ryder. Well, all but Martin Kaymer, who has not yet joined the U.S. tour. Maybe he's the sensible one after all.

The last notable event on the 2011 golf calendar, the Aussie Masters, is this week, with lefty Greg Chalmers seeking to win the Triple Crown after already claiming the Open and PGA titles Down Under. So why is the rift between Robert Allenby and Geoff Ogilvy getting all the ink?

Huggan: There is no real rift. The whole thing was over in five minutes. But it gives the media down there something to talk about rather than the golf. Haven't you noticed that most golf journalists don't really know anything about golf? That's why they write about golfers rather than the game they play.

Elling: Excuse me, isn't Australia the home of Mr. Murdoch? Need I say more?

Huggan: The U.S. citizen Rupert Murdoch? That's him!

Elling: Besides, Steve Williams won't be paired opposite Tiger Woods, so Ogilvy and Allenby are the spice du jour. They ran out of Tiger ammo.

Elling: Murdoch has U.S. citizenship? How did he pull that off? Hack into some Immigration guy's cell phone?

Huggan: Allenby and Ogilvy won't be paired together. Besides, no one will care once the golf starts. All this really shows is that Robert Allenby isn't very bright.

Elling: Unlike the two of us. Which goes without saying.

Huggan: But Allenby can play, of course. He's the only man who has ever pulled off the triple crown you mentioned. He did it back in 2005, when he could still putt.

Elling: Speaking of crowns, triple or singular, since this marks our last Pond Scrum of the year, if not forever, I have enjoyed our weekly match-play sessions. Well, other than working out the time differences when you were in Dubai or Melbourne, or I was in San Diego. Not sure how the score turned out. Halved?

Huggan: Halved? I reckon I kicked your backside more often than not. But hey, this is the season of goodwill and all that, so half it is.

Elling: That might be your first concession of the year. Who says you are not a proper sportsman and a man of high character? Well, other than Monty?

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