Britons in frame as Donald edges out Woods

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The Independent Online

"Luke Donald 1, Tiger Woods 0". An unlikely scoreline, but then the first day here was looking decidedly unfamiliar for Britain, what with Donald and Lee Westwood poised prettily on a US Open leaderboard. Could we dare dream of laying to rest Tony Jacklin's last European victory in the event some 35 years ago?

Perhaps, although it is still early days on a course that is promising to wreak so much havoc, and with Retief Goosen, golf's masochist-in-chief, ominously placed alongside Westwood at two under, one off the early lead, it was far safer to rejoice in Donald going head-to-head with Woods and winning by a shot - 69 to 70.

It was certainly some contrast to 2003 when the Englishman was first asked to walk besides this one-man maelstrom in a major. Then Donald resembled a rabbit caught in the headlights and the young buck could not wait to hop off Royal St George's - bobtail between legs - with a 76 and 79. Yesterday, the only rabbit Donald brought to mind was Dylan off The Magic Roundabout.

Indeed, "mellow" perfectly described the 27-year-old's mood as he struck the ideal balance between calculated risk and cautious control that Pinehurst so vehemently demands. "Yeah, it was very easy-going out there, very relaxed," he said, with something that bordered on a yawn. He did struggle to get up and down from the edge of the "upside-down" greens for his three bogeys but accepted the medicine - that is going to be in freeflow as the week gets longer and the bare fringes rough up - with the merest look of distaste. Woods, meanwhile, bore the appearance of the sick after swallowing a litre of out-of-date cod-liver oil.

Which was odd, seeing as the world No 1 should have been happily getting away with golfing murder. Teeing off on the par-five 10th, Woods found a sandy cart path by dint of being even too far right to locate the merciless rough - "jammy beggar" sprang to mind as he scrambled in his birdie.

It was the theme of the morning as the Masters champion toed and froed around par, but was best summed up by his tee shot on the third, Tiger's 12th. Electing, for some reason, to try to drive a green some 336 yards away, but heavily guarded by an uninviting bunker, the speed of his club-head was only rivalled by the obscenity that hurtled from his mouth as the wicked slice headed for the trees on the right. Behind those pines lay trouble of the deep variety.

Except Woods's ball hit a three-foot wide pine straight in the middle, some 25ft in the sky and obligingly bounced back in front the green. A duffed pitch followed, then came a scrappy approach putt and Woods still, remarkably, had a par to show for some shoddy efforts. And the 29-year-old's cheek was equally remarkable as he shook that lucky head of his. Still, at least he was to acknowledge as much six holes later with a nod of relief as he escaped with a level-par 70.

As ugly as it might have been, it was looking more than satisfactory on an early clubhouse leaderboard that was topped by the American journeymen Olin Browne and Rocco Mediate on three under.

Browne, for one, could not quite believe where an unlikely journey had taken him after coming so close to pulling out of qualifying after a first-round 73 in Maryland a fortnight ago.

The 46-year-old even asked about the protocol of withdrawing, so as not to upset the legendarily touchy United States Golf Association, but thought he would give the first nine of his final round one last shot. Well, 30 shots to be exact and when he came back in 29, the Washington veteran had a 59 to his name, not to mention a berth in the US Open.

Yesterday, he capitalised to the full, as did Mediate, who has learned to suffer the agonies of a bad back to rescue a career that was heading southwards.

Westwood would sympathise with that. The dark days of his slump are now a blessed distant memory and the 32-year-old added a few more miles with a round of 68 that was fanfared with a 40-footer, crazy-golf sort of putt on the 16th that did everything but go through a windmill.

If the putter deems to stay just as obedient through all four days, and if he can shake off the chest infection that rendered his delighted reaction a throatie croak, then the Nottinghamshire lad may yet find himself in contention for the major that is surely due someday soon. "Fortunately, you don't play golf with your voice," Westwood laughed.

Ian Poulter was trying to, mind you, bellowing at a rules official who refused to budge an inch when the 29-year-old claimed that his two-foot putt had disappeared into the cup on the first - his 10th - but hit the metal rim inside the hole which was too high.

Poulter slammed the flag back into the hole after his bogey five stood and although he managed to par his way in from there, a 77 all but ended yet another major for a golfer whose temper is in danger of getting as outrageous as his pants.