HE IS a man for all seasons. His long-awaited breakthrough European Tour triumph came in the wind and rain at Royal Portrush.
This time, Jamie Donaldson won a duel in the sun with long-time leader Justin Rose and Thorbjorn Olesen. An exciting last-day battle in the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship also involved David Howell until he four-putted from five feet at the 13th.
Donaldson, who had cheekily sent Robert Rock a picture of his Masters invitation (for being in the world’s top 50 at the end of last year) earlier in the week, hardly missed a thing as he succeeded the Englishman as champion in the UAE capital. His only blip came at the last, where he three-putted from close to 40 feet to open the door to Rose and Olesen, playing partners in the last group.
Both a shot behind, Dane Olesen shaved the edge of the hole from 18 feet, while Rose lipped out from 12 feet. It was the second time in the space of less than two months that the Englishman had seen a title bid end in disappointment in the desert, having also been pipped by Rory McIlroy in the Tour Championship in Dubai.
While Donaldson didn’t have to worry about either of the top two McIlroy or Tiger Woods over the weekend,after their surprise early exits, the Pontypridd man was delighted to hold off fifth-ranked Rose. He revealed a second success in 15 starts, having come up empty-handed in 254 starts prior to that, had felt like a “miracle”.
“This was a tough field on a brutal golf course and to be sitting here as the winner is surreal,” said Donaldson, who signed off with a five-birdie 68 for a 14-under total of 274, one better than both Rose (71) and Olesen (69), to claim a first prize of nearly £280,000. On top of that prize, he will also be close to the top 30 in the latest world rankings when they are published today.
“It’s crazy, in fact, because I thought the course was too difficult after playing it in windy conditions in the pro-am,” he added. “I actually said to the guys I played with that if I even got into the top ten this week it would be a miracle. So to win is hilarious.”
Donaldson didn’t see the funny side in 2004, when he went to see a doctor about back trouble, which had left him in the golfing “wilderness” for four years, and was advised to give up the game. “It wasn’t what I wanted to hear, so I went to see someone else,” he said. That second opinion led to him putting in “a hell of a lot of gym work” for a year and now he’s become a powerful force in the European game.
“It’s a dream of mine,” the 37-year-old told The Scotsman when asked if he could make the 2014 Ryder Cup team at Gleneagles. “There’s a long way to go, but my game is obviously good at the moment and I would absolutely love to play in the Ryder Cup.”
Rose, one of the European heroes at Medinah last year, will still climb back up to world No 4 despite missing out on a wire-to-wire win, having been at the top of the leaderboard since setting the opening-day pace along with Donaldson. In the end, Rose was left to rue a pushed approach to the 16th that led to a bogey. It put him two behind with two to play, yet he came close to forcing a play-off.
“I made some key putts when I had to and it’s a shame that one at the last didn’t go in because I really thought I had hit the perfect putt,” said Rose, a class act these days who surely won’t have to wait too long to turn close shaves back into victories.
Howell, a member of two winning Ryder Cup teams, is probably better known these days from his stints in the Sky Sports commentary booth. He let his clubs do the talking here, though, and hit the front by moving to 12-under with eight to play. A first win since the 2006 BMW Championship at Wentworth was on the cards until disaster struck.
Bunkered in two at the 13th, he splashed out to four feet only to walk off with a triple-bogey 7. His first effort went two-and-a-half feet past. The next one, a downhiller, slipped four feet past and the third attempt stayed above ground as well.
“Disastrous,” was his summing up of the events. He blamed “an ounce of nerves” for missing the downhill one then, as the pressure was piled on, he was unable to keep negative thoughts out of his head. “We’re all human and even though you say ‘don’t four-putt’ sure enough, you do it,” he admitted.