Donald, who celebrated his 34th birthday in Dubai yesterday, goes head-to-head with McIlroy today (Thursday) as the $7.5 million Dubai World Championship presented by DP World gets underway at the Earth course, Jumeirah Golf Estates.
And the man, who has won four times already this year and stands on the brink of golfing immortality, is determined to maintain the mental strength that has taken him to the top of the rankings both in Europe and America.
“There has been a lot of talk about winning both Money Lists but the focus, as usual, is not different than any other event – to come here and try to win,” said Donald. “That’s always the focus and I think when you get away from that focus then you can easily get into trouble.”
Held under the patronage of HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of Dubai Sports Council, the Dubai World Championship presented by DP World is the final chance for world number two McIlroy to overtake his English rival in the year-long Race to Dubai. To do that, the man from Northern Ireland would have to win the tournament with Donald finishing outside the top nine.
“I’ve always said I think Rory has the most talent of any player I’ve played with on Tour,” added Donald. “He’s young, he has a great future ahead of him and I see him winning lots of tournaments and lots of Majors.”
Asked if that list of Tour players included Tiger Woods – the former world number one and winner of 14 Major titles – Donald had no hesitation. “I believe so, yes, just in pure talent. I know Tiger is very, very close and obviously I think Tiger’s work ethic and mindset are tremendous but in terms of talent, I think Rory has more.”
Donald’s statement came just 24 hours after McIlroy said he believed Donald to be the current best player in the world and sets the scene for an intriguing battle between the two stars as the 58-man field prepare to take on the 7,675-yard Greg Norman-designed course at Jumeirah Golf Estates.
“Rory’s win last week in Hong Kong has focused my attention of doing what I have to do,” added Donald. “It’s important for me that this event is not an anti-climax and I’m not the only one that has a chance. Fortunately, I’ve got another 56 people on my side and if one of them were to win then they are doing me a favour. But my mind-set is to go out there, win the event and take care of business that way.”
Defending champion Robert Karlsson is also in town looking to end 2011 in the same manner he completed the 2010 campaign. But when pushed as to who out of the top two he believed had the better chance of victory over the Earth course, the Swede admitted it was a tough call.
“The course is playing longer than last year so from tee to green Rory has a huge advantage,” said Karlsson.
“But Luke has another weapon he has been using to take himself to the top of the world and that’s his short game. The course is definitely set up for the longer hitter but there’s more to the game than that.”
With Justin Rose and Freddie Jacobson both pulling out of the event, only 58 of the top 60 on The Race to Dubai will tee up in today’s opening round with Donald and McIlroy the final pairing to take to the Earth course at 12.30pm.