World No. 1 Luke Donald topped a season of strong, steady play and top finishes by earning the PGA Tour’s 2011 Player of the Year award. Tour commissioner Tim Finchem made official on Tuesday what the golf world had known for weeks and announced at the same time that two-time winner and PGA champ Keegan Bradley, a New England native, was Rookie of the Year.
“On behalf of the PGA TOUR, my congratulations to Luke and Keegan for their award-winning accomplishments in 2011,” Finchem said during a teleconference with reporters. “Both players had significant and impressive performances throughout the course of the year, and the member vote reflects the respect their peers have for them.”
Donald, who Sunday became the first golfer to capture both the PGA and European Tour money-list titles, was a shoo-in for the honor, although the tour does not announce specific results of the votes cast by tour members who played in at least 15 official money events. An early competitor for the award, with his two playoff victories in his first year on tour, Bradley fell out of contention after two missed cuts and an otherwise lackluster finish to his season following his PGA Championship win in August.
Still, Bradley, from Woodstock, Vt., stood out as the best freshman on tour, with four top-10 finishes, 12 top-25 outcomes, and 18 of 28 cuts made. He closed out his first campaign ranked 30th in the world and came out on top at the PGA Grand Slam and (teamed with fellow ROY candidate Brendan Steele) in last week’s Franklin Templeton Shootout. Bradley also outdistanced reigning Masters champ Charl Schwartzel, Chris Kirk, Scott Stallings, and Jhonattan Vegas for the rookie trophy.
“I’m thrilled to win Rookie of the Year,” said Bradley, a graduate of Hopkinton (Mass.) High and St. John’s University. “It’s an award you can only win one time in your entire career….It was a main goal of mine and it’s a huge honor and privilege to be the Rookie of the Year.”
In addition to Webb Simpson, who captured the Wyndham and Deutsche Bank Championships, FedEx Cup victor Bill Haas and another two time-winner, Nick Watney, rounded out the POY slate. It was Donald, however, who was a model of consistency throughout the year.
“It’s a great honor to cap off what has been an amazing year for me,” Donald said during the teleconference. “My overall consistency and having to go to Disney and win the money list was a deciding factor [in capturing the Player of the Year vote].”
While the top-ranked golfer has yet to win a major, he was also a two-time champion and made all but two cuts in the 19 U.S. tourneys he entered. Add on two runner-up and two third-place results and 14 finishes within the top 10, and there really was no contest.
With Simpson and his two wins standing between him and the brass ring, Donald put on a show in the final round of the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Classic in October. Indeed, his come-from-behind W probably sealed the deal for Donald, who told reporters after finishing third in the Dubai World Championship on Sunday that he had voted for himself.
Five shots off the lead heading into the final round at the Disney event, Donald remained four shots back with nine holes to go. He proceed to drill six consecutive birdies, leaving Simpson in his dust, on his way to posting an 8-under 64 and a two-stroke win over Justin Leonard.
“I told you guys on Wednesday that the goal was to win. Nothing was really going to be good enough other than that,” Donald said following the triumph that he believed clinched him the Player title. “I think this is probably one of the most satisfying wins of my career just because of that.”
Indeed, Donald claimed the win made him the slam-dunk favorite for 2011‘s best golfer.
“I think I’ve answered everyone’s questions. Coming into this week, I felt like Webb was probably the favorite, based on he was ahead of me on the money list and he was ahead of me in wins this year. Obviously, I’ve drawn level on wins and I’ve gotten ahead on money,” Donald noted. “Feels like I’ve answered all the questions thrown at me.”
For good measure, the 34-year-old Englishman also had a remarkable run of 449 holes over three-and-a-half months without a three-putt. Donald said Tuesday he had been unaware of his “impressive” streak until it neared its end, but that it paled in comparison to earning the cash crowns.
“I don’t think it was more impressive than winning both money titles,” he said.
The five-foot, nine-inch, 160 pounder may not be long off the tee (147th on tour), but Donald led the league in scoring average (68.86), strokes gained-putting, approach shots from 100 yards to 125 yards out as well as from 50 yards to 125 yards, and of course three-putt avoidance. He praised his long-time coach, Pat Goss, for helping him gain confidence with his short game.
“He’s one of the best short-game teachers I know,” Donald said of the teacher he’s worked with for 14 years.
Despite hauling away the season-ending hardware, Donald had yet to put his clubs away. He left Dubai for Melbourne, where he will be the marquee attraction at this week’s Australian Masters — that is if the simmering feud between Aussies Robert Allenby and Geoff Ogilvy does not boil over.