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Donald staggers to finish line Down Under

By Ian Ransom

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Luke Donald's hopes of the Australian Masters title to cap his year ended in disappointment on Sunday with a forgettable back nine, but the globe-trotting Englishman pledged to come back after a month with his sights set on a maiden major triumph.

The world number one signed off with a scratchy one-over-par 72 at Victoria Golf Club to finish joint 12th behind winner and fellow Briton Ian Poulter, having toiled on the sandbelt course's undulating greens with little reward throughout the tournament.

Clawing to within five strokes of Poulter after a birdie on his eighth hole, Donald snuffed out his faint hopes with four bogeys in his last six holes as the wind rose in the afternoon.

"Obviously on the back nine I hit a few loose shots ... It wasn't like terrible golf, it just didn't happen this week," the 34-year-old told reporters. "I did enjoy it and I'm sure I'll be back here."

Donald's second trip to Australia, his first as a professional, allowed him to mix business with pleasure as he garnered tips for his golf architecture ambitions on Melbourne's sandbelt golf courses.

Having taken a long-haul flight from the Middle East where he sewed up the European Tour money crown at the Dubai World Championship, the Englishman said it was time for a well-earned break after a brilliant year in which he also topped the U.S. PGA Tour's Order of Merit.

"I'll put the clubs away for three weeks," said Donald, who will kick off 2012 at the January 26-29 Abu Dhabi Championship in a field featuring former world number one Tiger Woods.

"I think you always need rest, it's a long year, as golfers we play all year round and it's important to take breaks."

Donald, who was awarded both the U.S. and European Player of the Year awards after phenomenally consistent seasons on each tour, has simple aspirations for next year.

"To try and better (this year) somehow. You're always looking to get better and improve, obviously I'd love to win a major and be a part of that group -- but to continue to improve.

"There's definitely parts of my game I feel I could get stronger at and I'll be working on that in the off-season."

Donald, who won more than $6 million on the U.S. circuit and 5 million euros ($6.5 million) on the European Tour, will spend the holidays at his home in Chicago before having a tune-up in Florida ahead of Abu Dhabi. He faces one last challenge before he can put his feet up - Christmas shopping.

"The children are easy, the wife is the harder part," he said. "She keeps telling me jewellery and shoes. 'I'm easy to satisfy'. But I'm trying to find something original."

(Editing by Patrick Johnston)

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