Clarke and Donald fight hard to stay in contention - Golf - Sport - The Independent

Clarke and Donald fight hard to stay in contention

A distinctly wintry feel again settled over the 86th USPGA Championship as the whole of the mid-west of America suffered from unseasonally cool temperatures. On the shores of Lake Michigan, Whistling Straits was showing more teeth after giving up generous scores on Thursday.

A distinctly wintry feel again settled over the 86th USPGA Championship as the whole of the mid-west of America suffered from unseasonally cool temperatures. On the shores of Lake Michigan, Whistling Straits was showing more teeth after giving up generous scores on Thursday.

Luke Donald was among those hoping to hold on to a good opening effort but, while he stumbled late in his round and finished with a 73, Phil Mickelson moved ominously up the leaderboard. Nick Faldo also made good early progress in an attempt to avoid missing the cut at all four majors in a season for the first time.

Donald birdied the first three holes in the first round and kept the momentum going to record a 67. At five under par he was alongside Vijay Singh, one behind Ernie Els and Justin Leonard, and only two back from the first day leader, Darren Clarke.

Clarke's opening 65, his lowest round in a major championship, kept the Irishman, who is 36 today, at the top of the leaderboard all day. He was a late starter yesterday, as were Els and Leonard.

Briny Baird, a 32-year-old from Florida, twice managed to get to nine under par but a bogey at the 15th left him a stroke ahead of Clarke at three under for the round. The son of Butch Baird, a regular on the senior circuit in the States, he has yet to win on the USPGA Tour.

Mickelson, who opened with a 69, had not played since finishing third in the Open, which followed his victory at the Masters and a runner-up finish at the US Open. The left-handed American said he felt a bit rusty, but had given up the chance to play in last week's International tournament at altitude in Denver in order to do his now usual three days of preparation at the major venues.

Starting at the short par-four 10th, Mickelson picked up a birdie and then added another at the 15th, at 518 yards the longest par-four ever at a major tournament. He then picked up his third shot of the day at the par-five 16th to be six under par.

Faldo also started on the back nine and went one better than Mickelson in taking only 32 strokes. Birdies at the 10th and 11th were followed by doubling up at the 15th and 16th.

After moving up three of the tees on Thursday, the course was playing its full length of 7,514 yards. Donald birdied the 12th to get to six under but coming home bogeyed the third and seventh, both par-threes on the front nine."The course was definitely tougher today," Donald said.

"The tees were all the way back and some of the pins were also at the back of the greens. Yesterday I hit two-iron and six-iron at the 18th, but today it was a driver and a three-wood.

"It wasn't a bad round. I hit a lot of greens but didn't capitalise on my chances. The course is definitely getting harder and if I can have a good weekend I should have a good chance," he added.

Donald, who is in his third year as a professional but has played mainly in the States to date, is currently a leading candidate for one of Bernhard Langer's wildcards after winning the Scandinavian Masters two weeks ago. But his steady, uncomplicated style could still earn him an automatic place.

"I'm trying not to think about the Ryder Cup, but it's important for me to continue to play well to give myself a chance to make the team and show Bernhard I'm in good form if I don't make it automatically," Donald said.

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