Donald likes the look of paradise for 'plodders'

Only in golf could the term "plodder" be deemed a compliment and only in golf could this "plodder" be expected to shoulder the bulk of the hopes of an entire continent. Step forward Luke Donald - although not too fast, obviously - because you have the best shot of ending Europe's 35-year-void at the US Open. Well, according to some guy called Tiger Woods, anyway.

Only in golf could the term "plodder" be deemed a compliment and only in golf could this "plodder" be expected to shoulder the bulk of the hopes of an entire continent. Step forward Luke Donald - although not too fast, obviously - because you have the best shot of ending Europe's 35-year-void at the US Open. Well, according to some guy called Tiger Woods, anyway.

The world No 1 declared as much yesterday, although hardly suggesting that anyone from across the pond could dare deny him his second successive major. "The way Luke plods along, I think he's got the greatest chance of the Europeans," Woods said.

That is some commendation, as it will be some commotion when the 27-year-old tees it up with Woods at 12.44pm BST in today's first round on a magnificent course that will be replicating the crowd in its welcome - smiling white teeth on the outside, blood-dripping fangs on the inside. "I'm ready for it," said Donald. He better be, and more "ready for it" than he was at Sandwich two years ago when he was last drawn with Woods in a major. "That was my first time with Tiger," said Donald, recalling his humbling 76, 79. "I'm a different player now and I know him better. But the biggest factor is that I'm playing better."

Indeed he is, as his third place at the Masters signified, especially as Augusta was not expected to suit his game. Pinehurst most definitely is, with its unique demands screaming out for control - a Plodder's Paradise, if ever there was one. "That's a huge compliment of Tiger to say that," said Donald. "I am consistent in a lot of areas; I hit a large amount of fairways and greens and you'll need to around here. I don't hit it out of the woods and I know it isn't awe-inspiring golf at times. But around here you'll need to be one thing - patient. I've got the game to win around Pinehurst."

But has he got either the experience or the chutzpah? If Woods et al are not 100 per cent then maybe, although that is a big maybe as Padraig Harrington conceded. "Whoever prevails is going to have the best in every department," said the Dubliner, who together with Sergio Garcia, represents Europe's other loudest shouts. "Although you can never rule anybody out nowadays, I'd still back the favourites around here."

Maybe through a play-off, to continue a record streak that has seen the last three majors all go into extra time. That would take place on Monday in an 18-hole shoot-out, in one of the US Open's quaint, but rather inconvenient, traditions. Another one of those is that the course must be between "bloody hard" and "bloody silly" and there have been warnings from Woods that "the far from carpet-like run-off areas around the greens" may make luck an all too crucial weapon in the winner's armoury. "So the guy who hits the most greens is probably going to win," added Woods.

Retief Goosen might have chuckled at the statement, as the South African only hit six greens in regulation last year on the way to his second US Open crown. But at Shinnecock Hills on that final day, logic was swept away on the infernal winds that dried the New York course to farce. "Never again," said Ernie Els, after his last-round 80, and although the USGA confessed that they had gone "a little too far", they are determined not to make this "a US Open for wimps".

Goosen single-putted 12 times on the Sunday last year to deny Phil Mickelson - only a similarly inspired Payne Stewart stood in his way here in 1999 - and therefore it's hard to look further than the left-hander, not even to Tiger or a spluttering Els.

Mickelson's green skills give him an advantage that will be more pronounced than ever, but if his nerve bites then Donald could feast on Lefty's leftovers. He who plods longest may yet laugh loudest.

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