Donald and Westwood delighted to be out of the spotlight for home game

The English duo head to Royal St George's as one and two in the world yet are being overshadowed by a certain Northern Irishman

So the Open Championship returns to the south of England for the first time in eight years to find that the best two golfers in the world hail not from Florida or California but from the equally glamorous High Wycombe and Worksop.

Luke Donald and Lee Westwood have earned the right to be heralded into Royal St George's with trumpet and drum, home favourites mobbed by thousands of patriotic fans desperate to cheer on an English winner for the first time since Nick Faldo in 1992. And with Tiger Woods hobbling on crutches at home in Orlando, the oldest major really ought to be a very English affair. And then in blew Hurricane Rory. The Englishmen were bridesmaids to the 22-year-old Northern Irishman. There were seats aplenty in the press conferences for Westwood and Donald.

But for Rory McIlroy it was standing room only. Such was the rush of bums off seats on the announcement of his arrival, that just for a moment a rumour circulated that The Royal and Ancient's catering corps was handing out free beer tokens in the media dining area. All the talk in the golfing world is of McIlroy, US Open champion and the sport's newly anointed superstar. And all this Hollywood attention heaped on the young man from Holywood is perfect for his English rivals.

Westwood had the look of someone who had only recently stopped rubbing the sleep from his eyes after a jolly nice long lie-in. The 38-year old world No 2 is a wily ol' coyote of a campaigner skilled in the art of sporting psychological warfare. In fact there are two Lee Westwoods. Sometimes the cocksure bully turns up with a swagger that says, "I'm the man." But this week he's wearing his Kevin the teenager face: "Do I look bovvered?" Oh, he's bovvered all right. He just wants everyone (and that includes McIlroy) to think that he doesn't really fancy his chances.

It's all smoke and mirrors. He's fooling no one. But he's playing mind games with himself, mostly. Rest assured – he wants this Open championship. And he wants it bad. You get the impression that Westwood is delighted to be under the radar happy to see how McIlroy deals with being caught in the white-hot spotlight for the first time. Westwood's body language? Quietly confident. Actually, not that quiet. "My form is right where I'd like it to be," he said.

Westwood finished runner-up to Louis Oosthuizen last year at St Andrews, and tied third in 2009 at Turnberry behind Tom Watson and champion Stewart Cink. He is desperate to finally stand on the top step of the podium. "It would mean everything to me," he said for an Englishman to win the Open on this Kent links. "It's named after St George. You can't get much more English than that," he said. "It's obviously being played in the south of England, which only happened every now and then, and it's the biggest championship in the world as far as I'm concerned." He's won here before, too. Twice as an amateur in the early 1990s so there's good karma in Kent already.

But as the clock is ticking on Westwood's career as he strives for that elusive first major (he is 0 and 53 now as American stat geeks like to say), the last person he wants to hear criticism from is Colin Montgomerie. The Scot has majored in major near misses yet had the nerve to suggest recently that Westwood is getting close to his sell-by date. The words "pot" and "kettle" spring to mind.

"Yeah, I played with him last week," Westwood said, "and wound him up about that. It depends how physically able you are and I'm obviously a finely tuned athlete that can go on well into my forties," he said laughing. Touché, Monty. "People would have said I was coming into my prime 10 years ago. And then I dropped to 270th in the world so what's the point in guessing whether you're in your prime or not."

The Englishman unquestionably in his prime is 33-year-old Donald. The world No 1 arrived at Royal St George's as Scottish Open champion, his third high-profile victory of the year, and on a run of 16 top 10 finishes in his last 18 events. While Westwood likes to play mind games, with Donald, what you see is what you get. As the football chant goes, "There's only one Luke Donald."

He speaks like he plays – in a low key, metronomic fashion. But his results have become spectacular after years of underachievement. All that's missing is what everyone keeps asking of the world's best-ranked golfer. Where's that major coming from? "I really don't think the world ranking has anything to do with my mindset about winning a major," Donald said. Well, he would say that, wouldn't he? "I've always wanted to win a major since growing up watching my idols Faldo and Seve."

Under normal circumstances, an English world No 1 coming to the Open in England would be buried beneath a frenzy of expectation from fans and media. But normal service has been suspended for a while by the emergence of McIlroy as golf's new Elvis just as Woods has left the building. "Rory is at the forefront of a lot of people's minds and rightly so," Donald said. "He was impressive in the US Open and winning majors is a big deal, and he did it in great fashion. I'm sure a lot of the attention is on him and maybe a little more of the pressure as well," Donald said no doubt delighted to pour on some more.

Donald imagined what it would be like to come down the stretch on Sunday going head-to-head with Westwood. "I would love to be in that situation," he said. "I'm not sure who would have the most pressure on them. We'd be very cordial but there wouldn't be much chit-chat."

A perfect English summer afternoon by the seaside, then. A Northern Irishman might just fancy gatecrashing their party.

Donald's recent majors

2006

Masters T42

US Open T12

The Open T35

USPGA T3

2007

Masters T10

US Open Missed cut

The Open T63

USPGA T23

2008

Masters Missed cut

US Open Withdrew

The Open DNP

USPGA DNP

2009

Masters T38

US Open Missed cut

The Open T5

USPGA T43

2010

Masters Missed cut

US Open T47

The Open T11

USPGA Missed cut

2011

Masters T4

US Open T45

Westwood's recent majors

2006

Masters Missed cut

US Open DNP

The Open T31

USPGA T29

2007

Masters T30

US Open T36

The Open T35

USPGA T32

2008

Masters T11

US Open 3

The Open T67

USPGA Missed cut

2009

Masters 43

US Open T23

The Open T3

USPGA T3

2010

Masters 2

US Open T16

The Open 2

USPGA DNP

2011

Masters T11

US Open T3

The 140th Open Championship details

Betting

8-1 Rory McIlroy

12-1 Lee Westwood, Luke Donald

25-1 Martin Kaymer, Sergio Garcia

Television

Tomorrow BBC Two, HD, Red Button and online (0900-2000) Highlights BBCi (2000-2030)

Friday BBC Two, HD, Red Button and online (0900-2000) Highlights BBCi 2000-2030

Saturday BBC One, HD, Red Button and online (1000-1200); BBC One, HD, Red Button and online (1210-1715); BBC Two, HD, Red Button and online (1715-1900)

Sunday BBC Two, HD, Red Button and online (1100-1245); BBC One, HD, Red Button and online (1245-1900)

Weather Forecast

Tomorrow Cloudy, 18C, 22mph wind

Friday Sunny intervals, 21C, 14mph wind

Saturday Light rain, 19C, 19mph wind

Sunday Sunny intervals, 16C, 20mph wind

Watch highlights of the Open at independent.co.uk/openhighlights

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?