Donald wins in Europe to regain No. 1 ranking

VIRGINIA WATER, England — Luke Donald replaced Rory McIlroy at No. 1 in the rankings for the third time in 10 weeks, successfully defending his title in the BMW PGA Championship. It also lifted his hopes of finally capturing a major at the U.S. Open next month.

Displaying his trademark consistency with his driver and putter, Donald won the biggest event on the European Tour by four strokes. The Englishman shot a 4-under 68 at Wentworth on Sunday for his fourth straight round under 70, leaving him at 15 under.

It was Donald’s second victory of the year, following one at the Transitions Championship in March on the PGA Tour. Last year at Wentworth, he took the top spot in the world from Lee Westwood when he beat Westwood in a playoff.

“There’s something sweet about going 12 months and still being No. 1,” Donald said. “It’s an indication that I’m doing the right things.”

Donald held a two-shot lead over Justin Rose when he began his final round in sunny conditions and said he felt tense in the opening stretch of holes, culminating in a bogey 6 on the long fourth hole. A birdie for Rose at the same hole drew the players even at 10 under. With Peter Lawrie and Paul Lawrie within two shots at that stage, a tight finish seemed likely.

Donald made sure that didn’t happen. He rediscovered his putting touch to birdie four of the next seven holes, including a 30-footer on No. 10 that drew cries of “Luuuuke!” from the gallery and left Rose three shots behind.

Donald had the luxury of strolling down No. 18 with a four-shot cushion. He suddenly had the aura of the best player in the world.

Rose missed a short birdie putt at the last hole to finish with a 70 and tied for second with Paul Lawrie, the 1999 British Open champion who had a 66 — tied with George Coetzee for the lowest round of the day.

“There were no loose shots coming down the stretch. And with his short game and him making 20- and 30-footers, he’s tough to beat,” Rose said, referring to his Ryder Cup colleague.

Not only did a sixth victory in 15 months earn Donald $950,000, it also gave him a big boost before the U.S. Open in San Francisco.

“I feel I am getting closer. Every time I get a success like this, it adds to my confidence. These victories are key to bringing that confidence to the majors,” said the 34-year-old Englishman, who topped the money lists both sides of the Atlantic in 2011. “It’s putting four rounds together like I did this week.”

It’s the sixth change at the top of the rankings between Donald and McIlroy in 12 weeks. McIlroy missed the cut at Wentworth after a second-round 79.

Donald became the third player, after Nick Faldo and Colin Montgomerie, to retain the title at this tournament, and it marked the first time he has won an event twice in a row.

I feel that when I’m playing well, I’m hard to beat. But I think there could be 20, 25 guys who would say that,” Donald said.

Scores were significantly lower than Saturday, when the field had to contend with wind of up to 30 mph.

Peter Lawrie birdied the last hole to leave him alone in fourth place. South Africa’s Branden Grace, a three-time winner on the European tour this year, was a shot further back in fifth.

Wentworth course designer Ernie Els, who apologized for his expletive-laced outburst about the state of the greens Saturday, tied for seventh with Marcel Siem and Francesco Molinari. Siem drew perhaps the day’s biggest cheer when he made a hole-in-one at No. 2.

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