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“He’s won four times in a year and all big events _ the World Match Play, Wentworth, Scottish Open and obviously Disney when he needed to,” McIlroy said. “And he’s hardly finished outside the top 10. He’s deservedly the No. 1 player at the moment.”

But Robert Karlsson, who won the tournament last year, said McIlroy will have an edge because the Greg Norman-designed Earth course is playing longer than it has in the past. He said at least three of the par 5s will favor the big-hitting McIlroy.

Luke has another weapon that has taken him to the top of the world and that is his short game,” Karlsson said. “But Rory has a huge advantage getting up to the greens. That is just the way it is.”

If Donald does take the European money title, it is unlikely to silence the detractors who have questioned whether he deserves to be No. 1 because he hasn’t won a major. He tied for fourth at this year’s Masters, eighth at the U.S. PGA Championship and 45th at the U.S. Open. He missed the cut at the British Open.

The composed and low-key Donald said he wasn’t concerned about his critics, insisting that earning the No. 1 spot without winning a major in some ways was more impressive.

“The critics will always be there and they make me stronger to be honest,” Donald said.

“Every time someone says I can’t do anything, it just makes me work harder. So you know, fine. I don’t really mind that there’s critics out there. I’ve had a tremendous year and I’m excited about next year. I think I’m a different player this year because of all the victories. I feel more confident. Hopefully, I can bring the game to the majors.”

Donald returned to the tour only last week from a five-week break, during which he buried his father and welcomed the birth of his daughter. He said the time “was tough, very tough.” But his daughter’s arrival “spread a little grace on the situation” and allowed him to “concentrate my efforts on a new life.”

Reflecting on his father, Donald admitted Colin was more concerned about “bringing him up as a decent person” than passing on golf tips. But Donald still said he remembers many times walking the course with his father when he was a youngster.

“We didn’t play a lot but he would take me out sometimes, even mornings before school and we would go and play a quick nine holes,” he added. “I have fond memories of that.”

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Follow Michael Casey on Twitter at https://twitter.com/mcasey1