Luke Donald begins his competitive life as the world No 1 today at the Memorial with the predictable question marks greeting his ascent. But in the unlikely event this unflappable Englishman was looking for a backer to state his case he couldn't have chosen any better than Jack Nicklaus.
The 18-times major champion is the host of this £4m tournament at Muirfield Village, Ohio, and is plainly not of the same opinion as his former rival Lee Trevino. "Luke Donald, how can he be No 1?" Trevino was quoted by Golf magazine as saying. "He's won one tournament in the last five years!"
Donald has actually won four in this time. Two of them have come in the last four months and just happened to be two of the bigger titles on the calendar – the WGC Match Play in February and the PGA Championship last Sunday. At least Nicklaus recognises not only the 33-year-old's quality but also his work ethic.
"There isn't anybody who spends more time working on his golf game than I've seen in Luke," said Nicklaus. "He spends his time chipping and putting, chipping and putting, and I mean, he wears out the practice greens. The effort he has put into it has been rewarded."
Nicklaus believes Donald has all that it takes to make a major breakthrough at Congressional later this month. "Luke should always do well on the US Open golf courses," said the 71-year-old, "because length is not the primary factor." Nevertheless, Nicklaus was prepared to relegate Donald on one list. "I think if you asked the players who is No 1, they would still say Tiger [Woods]," he said.
Woods is not at the Memorial as he tries to recover from his latest knee injury in time for the US Open in two weeks' time. But Donald will tee it up alongside the world No 4, Phil Mickelson, as well as the Masters champion Charl Schwartzel, the defending champion Justin Rose and Ulsterman Rory McIlroy.
Meanwhile, the Wales Open tees off today with four of the victorious European Ryder Cup team returning to Celtic Manor, as well as their captain, Colin Montgomerie. Graeme McDowell, the defending champion, heads the challenge along with Ross Fisher, Peter Hanson and Miguel Angel Jimenez.