VIRGINIA WATER, England -- World No. 2 Luke Donald has his sights fixed firmly on a place in the record books alongside Colin Montgomerie next May by attempting to capture the BMW PGA Championship for a third consecutive year.
The 35-year-old Englishman joined Montgomerie and Nick Faldo as the only players to have successfully defended the title in the illustrious history of the flagship event on the European Tour when he won in considerable style in 2012.
Now Donald is aiming to complete a treble next May at Wentworth Club, a feat achieved only by eight-time European No. 1 Montgomerie, who won the most prestigious event in Europe outside the British Open in 1998, 1999 and 2000.
Donald edged out Lee Westwood in a playoff in 2011 – and with it leapfrogged his compatriot into the World No. 1 spot – before successfully defending the title last year, cruising to a four-stroke victory that again returned him to the pinnacle of the Official World Golf Ranking.
“Obviously the BMW PGA Championship is The European Tour’s flagship event and to win it back-to-back was very special for me,” said Donald, who also made history in 2011 by topping the European Tour and PGA Tour money lists in the same season. “I’ll be going there with high expectations of trying to emulate the great Colin Montgomerie.”
Donald grew up in nearby Buckinghamshire, and as a child would watch his idols grace the hallowed fairways of Wentworth Club, a memory that makes his victories all the more special.
“When I was 12, 13 years old I’d be running around the course watching some of the great players – Nick Faldo, Ernie (Els), Seve (Ballesteros), the top players in Europe,” he said. “Being just 30 minutes from home, it was a special event to me and I always love coming back to Wentworth. As golfers we aspire to inspire the younger generation, and hopefully my two victories there have inspired some younger kids to go out there and practice hard.”
MCILROY TARGETS IRISH OPEN: World No. 1 Rory McIlroy was bowled over by the support that he, Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke received in their native Northern Ireland when the return of the Irish Open to Royal Portrush earlier this year smashed European Tour attendance records.
“It’s very special because it’s my home event,” said McIlroy. “The history of the Irish Open is very special too, with such a great list of champions from Nick Faldo to Seve (Ballesteros), Bernhard Langer, Sergio Garcia and Padraig Harrington. So many European greats have won that tournament and I think that’s what makes it so special.”
McIlroy, who will be targeting a third major championship in 2013, is already planning to compete in his seventh Irish Open and his second over the Montgomerie Course at Carton House. He was just a 16-year-old amateur when the event was played at Carton House in 2005, when he missed the cut.
“I like Carton House and I’ve a little bit of history there. It was the first Irish Open I played, over the Monty course, and I have great memories of going down there (from Belfast) as part of Irish amateur squads. It’s a place I enjoy going back to.”
The challenge of following in the footsteps of Harrington (2007) and Carton House’s Touring Professional, Shane Lowry (2009), is a prime target for McIlroy in 2013 and beyond.
“I know Padraig Harrington has talked a lot about how he felt when he won and how proud he was of that achievement,” he said. “I’d love to win it, although it’s tough to play in front of your home crowds at times. It brings its own pressures and you want to do so well for them and they live and breathe every shot with you! Hopefully I am not going to win not just one Irish Open but a few Irish Opens in my career.”
LAWRIE TO DEFEND IN QATAR: Ryder Cup star Paul Lawrie has confirmed he will attempt to win a record third Commercial Bank Qatar Masters title in January to add to his victories in 1999 and February of this year. The 43-year-old from Scotland is only the event’s second two-time champion, following Australian Adam Scott, who won in 2002 and 2008.
The 2013 Qatar Masters will, for the first time, be played from Wednesday to Saturday, Jan. 23-26, at Doha Golf Club, positioning the $2.5 million event at the heart of the European Tour’s three-week Middle East Swing.
Now enjoying a ‘second wind’ in his career, Lawrie won two European Tour titles in 2012, finished 10th on the money list, reached a career-high world ranking and beat Brandt Snedeker in the singles to help Europe retain the Ryder Cup.
Although hot off what he describes as the most consistent season of his career, the 1999 British Open champion has tempered expectations of another victory in Doha.
“It’s a tournament I enjoy, where I’ve not only won twice but had a lot of good finishes. It’ll be my third event of 2013 so I should be game sharp, more than I would be if it was my first event,” said Lawrie, who will head to Doha after competing in European Tour events in Durban, South Africa and Abu Dhabi. “I know the course well, as we’ve played there many times. I look forward to going back, but there are very few people who go to tournaments and successfully defend. Obviously you go there with good feelings, but sometimes that holds you back a wee bit, makes it harder to win again.”