Donald is thrust into limelight with Woods

The Open: Young British contender groomed on US tour begins championship challenge alongside world No 1 and Spain's fiery Garcia
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The Independent Online

No sooner had Luke Donald uttered the words "It would be nice to get a bit more recognition" than the draw for the 132nd Open Championship made sure he would. Donald, the 25-year-old from High Wycombe, will be playing alongside Sergio Garcia and the world No 1, Tiger Woods, for the first two rounds on Thursday and Friday.

This is the second year running that a young British player has been drawn with Tiger for the first 36 holes. Justin Rose enjoyed being the centre of attention, and though Donald is a more reserved character, his very calmness should see him through the ordeal. Though Garcia has not been at his best this season, the Spaniard will add to the maelstrom following his duels with Woods in Ryder Cups and at the 1999 USPGA.

Donald, who once really did have a partner called Robert Duck in the English amateur team, has played almost exclusively in the States since he turned professional less than two years ago. His only other appearance in Britain came when he missed the cut at the Open last year, as he had done twice as an amateur.

Last year, he became the first European player to win in the States during his rookie season after turning professional on the US Tour. But apart from those watching the American tournaments on satellite television, Donald is not as well known as Rose or Paul Casey.

"I went out for a practice round on my own on Tuesday and there were people trying to read the name on my bag," Donald said. "Then you could hear them saying: 'Oh, that's Luke Donald'." He has not played with Woods before, but the American said: "I've had lunch with Luke a number of times. He's a real nice guy, a class act."

"I'm excited," Donald said about the draw. "This is what I play the game of golf for. I look forward to getting into pressure situations and competing against the best. I haven't been able to get into contention for tournaments as much as I would like in the States but I love to feel the emotions running high.

"Hopefully, this won't be the last time we play together. It will be nice to see him up close. It's a good experience for me and a big chance. I'm better prepared after not having to qualify this time. If I play well, there is no reason I can't contend."

Donald will play for the first time on the European Tour in the next two weeks, in Ireland and Sweden, and he might add more events if it means qualifying for the next Ryder Cup team. "I have enjoyed success in the Walker Cup and I won't be satisfied until I have played in a Ryder Cup," he said.

He was unbeaten in two Walker Cups and his captain on those occasions, Peter McEvoy, firmly believes he will go on to win a major championship. But Donald points to Nick Faldo as a player who did not win his first major until the age of 30.

"My progress is slow but steady," Donald said. "It has always been that way since I started in college in Chicago. You have to be patient, on and off the course. When you start to push things, that's when it can go wrong. I don't want to shut myself off from the European Tour but at the moment I think I need to be in the States to be the best player I can be."

The only criticism that has been levelled at Donald is his length off the tee, something he refutes. "I don't see that as an issue. I was short off the tee but now I'm average to above average. The driving stats can be deceptive. It is better to be on the fairway rather than long and crooked."

Woods was more crooked than usual at the Masters and the US Open but his victory at the Western Open suggests that his game is coming together.

"I would just like to play more consistently," Woods said. "If I do that, I'll give myself a chance to win. I played well in spurts at Augusta and Olympia Fields but there were some stray shots as well. I'd like to play consistently for an entire event, as I did at the Western."

But as for a possible showdown with the Scottish Open winner, and defending Open champion, Ernie Els, he said: "I think there are more than just two players in the tournament. Anyone who has earned their right to be here can win."

Nor, Tiger insisted, was there any hangover from his 81 in the great storm at Muirfield last year. "I got over it that night," he said. "I shot 65 the next day. It was a tough day for everybody but you can always learn from your best rounds and your worst rounds."

After playing three practice rounds, Woods, the 2000 champion, agreed there could be some "fluky" bounces on the hard, sloping fairways. "I guess you could say that. You are going to hit a good shot and get a bad hop, and hit a marginal shot and get a great hop.

"But as long as you make quality swings, everything should be okay. It is still a course that rewards quality shots. You can't go out and play badly and contend. You have to play solidly for 72 holes and you have to be patient.

"If you look at the board from 1993, we had Pavin, Langer, Norman and Faldo, all were playing well but were also very patient players."