Dubai: After experiencing an emotional rollercoaster brought on by the recent death of his father and birth of his second daughter, Luke Donald didn't seem to have the appetite to play golf.
The No.1-ranked Donald admitted he was "rusty" in finishing 10 shots off the pace at last week's Nedbank Golf Challenge in his return to the game after a five-week break. Meanwhile his nearest rival for the European money title, Rory McIlroy, kept the race alive with a win at the Hong Kong Open. Then, Donald arrived at the Dubai World Championship and endured an error-prone first round that left him in 26th place.
The 34-year-old Englishman, who won the American title earlier this year, had to finish better than ninth or hope McIlroy didn't win the tournament.
But by Friday, the Donald that fans had become accustomed to had returned. He started hitting magical approach shots and sinking putts, moving up to 12th in the leaderboard while a fatigued-looking McIlroy began slowly self-destructing.
The 22-year-old McIlroy went into the water on the 18th in the second round and never recovered. He ended the tournament at 9 under in a tie for 11th, while Donald strung together two straight rounds of 66 on Saturday and Sunday to finish in third place to become the first golfer to win both the European and American money titles.
"It's something that I didn't think was possible," Donald said of the historic double. "I played extremely solid, consistent golf all year winning four times and playing right at the right moments. I think it is testament to my hard work and it's nice to see it paying off."
Alvaro Quiros won the tournament with a 19-under total of 269, two shots ahead of Paul Lawrie of Scotland.
The No. 2-ranked McIlroy had all but conceded the Race To Dubai money title Saturday, after finishing with a 1-under 71. That left the Northern Irishman in a tie for eighth Saturday and six shots behind Quiros.
He said on Friday that for the past several weeks he has been suffering with fatigue from the lingering effects of dengue fever, which he believes he picked up a few weeks earlier in either South Korea or China.
"I just couldn't get anything going when I needed to," McIlroy said. "I think that I played a nine-hole stretch on Friday night and Saturday morning in 5-over par ... If I had played them on even par, I would have been in a great position going into today. I think that is really where the tournament got away from me."
Winning the elusive double wasn't a goal for Donald at the beginning of the year, but he said it started creeping into his mind after he won the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth in a playoff over Lee Westwood in May. Donald rose to No. 1 with the win, becoming only the 15th player to reach the top ranking in 25 years.
Donald has won three other titles this season, including the Children's Miracle Network Hospitals Classic at Disney where he snatched the US money title from Webb Simpson. That put him on course for unprecedented success on both money lists.
"This is what I wanted. I think this is something that became possible probably midway through the season and it's something I thought about," he said. "It's driven me to work hard and it's helped me to be as successful as I have been and especially the last half of this year. You know, to actually have it happen is a different thing. It feels almost a weight off my shoulders."
The Englishman credited his recent success to his consistency, ability to hold up under pressure and winning big tournaments.
"Success breeds more success," he said. "Any time you are doing well, you are able to feed off that. You know that when the pressure is at the most, you're able to come up with the shots. I obviously did that."
But even with his historic double, Donald knows there will be critics out there who insist he isn't deserving of the top ranking because he hasn't won a major. For them, Donald said the time will come.
"Obviously that is something that is missing from my resume, a major," he said. "I feel like this year, I've done everything but win a major and I'm excited about 2012. I'm excited to bring these memories, these experiences to the majors and hopefully that will help me and get me in contention and give me a chance to get my first major."
The critics were few at the Dubai tournament. Instead, there were plenty of fans chanting his name and fellow golfers singing his praise for winning the double - something few golfers have ever come close to achieving because they don't play enough tournaments on both tours.
Alvaro said Donald was someone who "always keeps coming back" and does "well under pressure" while Masters champion Charl Schwartzel said he was inspiration for a lot of other golfers on the tour.
"He's amazing," said Schwartzel, who finished in fifth place at the Dubai tournament. "I'm a guy that strives for consistency and he's taken it to another level. He deserves it. He's played unbelievable golf and when you play golf like that, you're going to get rewards."
The 2010 US Open champion Graeme McDowell said Donald's achievement might in some ways be harder than winning a major. "We are not looking at one event for four weeks of the year," he said. "We are talking about 18 months of unbelievable golf."
Before he hoisted the Race To Dubai trophy, Donald had a chance to reflect on the past five weeks. He said earlier in the week that he expected his father Colin - who died in his sleep at 76 last month - would be looking on as he made history, and he thought of him as he hugged his brother coming off the 18th hole.
"He just said well done and would have made dad really proud," Donald said, when asked about what his brother said to him. "Well done doing it for dad."