Luke Donald responded to missing the cut at the US Open by matching his highest-ever finish in the Open Championship. Missing the cut in a major as world No 1 is not something Donald wants to make a habit of but last month's failure followed a similar one at last year's Open at Sandwich.
When Donald tied for fifth place at Turnberry in 2009 he was accused by an American journalist of sneaking up the leader board on the last day when not under pressure – "Luke Donald disease" it was called.
Another way of looking at it is that Donald keeps grinding until the final whistle, trying to figure out a way to keep improving his standing. And to think he is not under pressure whenever he tees up as the world's best player is far from the mark. A 69 yesterday left him at two under par and joint fifth with Graeme McDowell. Meanwhile, his two rivals at the top of the world rankings finished well down the leader board, Lee Westwood on six over after a 72 and Rory McIlroy on eight over after a 73.
"You can learn a lot by playing poorly like I did at the US Open," Donald said, "and not living up to my expectations. I certainly was very anxious and didn't do a good job on the mental side. So this week was a huge improvement in terms of that and I'll use that going forward."
Donald was certainly left optimistic of a future Open triumph was within his grasp. "Tee to green I was good enough to win this week," he said. "It was certainly solid enough, I hit a lot of fairways, a lot of greens. It just came down to the short stick, which usually is a strength of mine. But it's a different type of surface on these old links courses. Sometimes you just need to get on those runs where it goes in. Certainly I didn't hit too many poor putts, it's just getting on that run. It will happen."
McIlroy finished so early that the leaders were still some time from teeing off and the 23-year-old could look forward to willing on his friend and fellow Northern Irishman McDowell. "Adam [Scott] obviously has a bit of a lead but I know from experience it's hard to go out and protect something like that," McIlroy said.
Sadly, it was not to be McDowell's day but McIlroy added about his Ryder Cup partner: "He's very gritty and enjoys these types of days. That's what he plays for. When you have to make a lot of pars, that's when he is at his best."
It is a virtue that the younger man is still acquiring. While he took advantage of a soft course at Congressional last year to win the US Open in record-breaking fashion, he could not do so here on a links that was as benign as it could be for three days.
McIlroy started well on Thursday until he hit a spectator on the head and went out of bounds on the 15th hole. He got revenge on the hole yesterday by holing out from a bunker for a birdie. But in between times his Open hopes had long since disappeared.
He struggled with his game for the last three days and said there were going to be times over a 20-year career when he had to be patient while working on his game. "I'm not going to get too wound up over the next few weeks," he said. "I've got to keep plugging away, working on the right things and eventually it will all come round."
But after his rant about the weather at the Open last year, McIlroy left Lytham convinced there was no reason a Claret Jug could be in his possession one day. "I feel like I can win any given week if I play well," he said. "I don't think there is a major that is harder to win than any other. I think they are all equal. I would have said the US Open a couple of years ago the way they set up the courses, but I got a US Open where it was a bit softer and I was able to be a bit more aggressive. You've just got to beat all the other guys. I treat all the majors equally and try to do my best."
On the other hand, Westwood conceded the fine margins on a links course might make the Open the hardest of the majors to win. He had a chance to win at Turnberry three years ago but three-putted at the last to miss the playoff between Stewart Cink and Tom Watson.
"You certainly need a bit more luck at the Open Championship with the draw," he said. "But that didn't really come into it this week. You just need a few good breaks. Landing in the fairway with the slopes, the difference between ending up in a trap or being in good shape can be 60 or 70 yards. It is probably the hardest of the four to win."
Westwood started the championship with two birdies followed by a double bogey. Yesterday, he started with a par and then had two birdies followed by a double bogey. He just never got any momentum going.
Next year Westwood will return to the Open aged 40. "That's when life begins, so I'm told," he said. In fact he will be starting a new life in America with the family joining him in Florida at the turn of the year. His immediate schedule is all Stateside with the Bridgestone World Invitational, the USPGA Championship and then the Fed-Ex Cup series on the PGA Tour. The reason for moving? "The English winter," he said, "and the English summers. I struggled over there for a while but I've really enjoyed it in recent years."
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