After Luke Donald polished off the PGA Tour money title on Sunday at Disney, the world’s No. 1 golfer was likely spiffing up a spot on his trophy shelf for the Player of the Year hardware. After all, the 33-year-old Englishman had two tour wins, made the most money, owned the lowest score average, and was the most consistent golfer of the season.
And then the tour changed the rules at the buzzer. Instead of instructing voters to choose the best player of the year based on results through the so-called season-ending fall series event (which followed the season-ending FedEx Cup series), officials decided the 2011 campaign wasn’t really over and would not send out ballots until after the HSBC Championship in Shanghai.
Which changed everything, and Donald was not happy about it.
“I think the decision to add the HSBC is a little bit sketchy at best,” Donald said Tuesday on Golf Channel’s “Morning Drive” program. “Why suddenly change the rule the day after Disney? It doesn’t make much sense to me.”
The tour’s explanation for making the call because of the timing of the Shanghai event did not add much clarity to the issue.
“Last year…, HSBC was the week prior to Children’s Miracle Network,” a tour spokesperson told us in an e-mail message Tuesday. “With the schedule change this year, we felt it was important to remain consistent to make sure the HSBC Champions was included in any POY discussion. Our plan was to send ballots to players this week but that changed to include HSBC after closer examination.”
Donald wondered how the situation had occurred at all.
“To be honest, everything needs to be simplified a little bit for the PGA Tour. There doesn’t seem to be a beginning and an end,” he said. “You finish the FedEx Cup and you think the season’s over, then you’ve got the fall series, and you think after Disney it’s over, and now they’re adding another event.
“I feel like even if I went to HSBC and won, they’d find another event,” said Donald, who entered the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals tourney at the last moment to secure the money title and almost guarantee the PoY award. He said he may enter the HSBC tourney if his wife has delivered the couple’s second child by then.
But who can blame Donald for his skepticism? His virtuoso performance in the Disney finale, which included six straight birdies to start the back nine, pretty much settled the debate about who would take home the PoY honors. It would be difficult to argue against his come-from-behind, final-round 8-under 64 on Sunday putting an exclamation point on an award-winning season.
Or maybe not. Should one of two potential PoY candidates teeing it up in Shanghai — PGA champ Keegan Bradley and Masters winner Charl Schwartzl — win the World Golf Championships event, the scales would likely tip in that golfer’s favor.
Conspiracy theorists may believe that tour officials wanted to give an American as much ammunition as he could load up on to win the award, since Bradley’s season speaks for itself: two tour wins (three, if he triumphs in Shanghai) in his rookie season, including a major. But that outlook did not consider that a win in Shanghai would vault South African Charl Schwartzel — with the Masters trophy and zero missed cuts this season — to the top of the balloting.
All of which would have been fine, had the tour not moved the finish line with the contestants believing they had finished the race.