Luke Donald has only one victory in four years on the PGA Tour, but he came up with a big one that only counts in his bank account – shooting an 8-under 64 to rally from six shots behind to beat Darren Clarke in the Target World Challenge.

Donald, who celebrated his 28th birthday Wednesday, matched the record for best closing round by a winner in the seven-year history of the event. Tournament host Tiger Woods in 2001 and Davis Love III in 2000 also shot 64 to win, although they only came from four shots behind.

No one gave Donald much of a chance, especially the way Clarke was playing on the course, and staying away from his nightlife activities when his work was done.

But he fell apart down the stretch with a bogey on the par-5 16th. Needing a birdie on the 18th to force a playoff, he pulled his approach, and hit his 45-foot birdie putt so badly that he dropped his putter and put hands on hips a few moments after the ball left his blade.

He wound up with a three-putt bogey for a 72, leaving him two strokes back.

Donald finished at 16-under 272 and won $1.3 million from the richest event in the silly season, the largest paycheck of his career.

A solid player who has risen to No. 13 in the world ranking, the Englishman missed good opportunities to win at the Buick Invitational and The Players Championship this year.

“Luckily, I played great today,” Donald said. “Fortunately for me, the guys in the top two groups didn’t play their best and let me have this one a little bit. This has been a year of nearlys.’ Luckily, I got the last one. It will make Christmas a little better.”

U.S. Open champion Michael Campbell missed a 2-foot par putt on the sixth and never got it together, closing with a 72 to finish four shots behind. Padraig Harrington, who also started one shot behind Clarke, hit into the bushes on the par-3 eighth and made double bogey, and never quite recovered. He hit into the water on No. 18 for a double bogey to shoot 73 and tie Campbell for third.

Woods either had won or finished second since his tournament moved to Sherwood in 2000, but not this year. He struggled all week, bogeyed two of his last three holes and shot 73 to finish in a tie for 14th.

It was his sixth event in the last six weeks – two victories (Japan and the PGA Grand Slam), three times a runner-up (Tour Championship, Shanghai, Skins Game). After piping a 3-wood down the middle of the 18th fairway, Woods walked off the tee and said, “One more iron, three more putts and I’m done for the year.”

Not quite. He missed the green, chipped short and took only two putts.

“I’ve been playing a lot of golf, putting on a lot of miles,” he said. “My battery is just running a little low.”

Donald plodded along with birdies, making five in a seven-hole stretch on the back nine to move closer to the lead. He pulled into a tie on the par-5 16th with an 8-foot birdie.

Clarke, who was 16 under on the par 5s heading to the back nine, came undone on the par-5 16th. From the middle of the fairway, he pulled his fairway metal into deep rough on a steep slope above the green. His first chip didn’t reach the green, and his next one went 8 feet by, and he wound up with bogey.

“I was fighting it left all day, just enough to get myself in difficult positions to get up and down,” Clarke said. “The par 5s have been good to be all week, and the three places I missed, I didn’t get good lies.”

On the first 17 par 5s, Clarke was 16 under. He played the final three in 1 over.

Clarke usually treats this week as occasion to celebrate every night, although he swore off the parties after opening with a 65 to get into contention.

Any regrets?

“Only last night,” he said with a smile.

Asked what he did Saturday night, Clarke replied, “Nothing.”

For Donald, he can only hope this is a springboard to 2006. In addition to his lone tour victory in the Southern Farm Bureau Classic three years ago, he won twice last year in Europe.

And while this isn’t an official victory, he beat 15 of the best players in the world.

AP-ES-12-11-05 1823EST


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