Rookie Donald finds feet after feeling the pressure

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The Independent Online
As the feverish expectation yielded to deflation, the crowd here will have been not amused at all to recall that one contributor to Europe's overnight lead was an enemy within.

As the feverish expectation yielded to deflation, the crowd here will have been not amused at all to recall that one contributor to Europe's overnight lead was an enemy within.

Luke Donald could be almost regarded as one of their own. The Ryder Cup novice studied here, plays his golf here, lives near here, and his long-time girlfriend, Diane, is American. But Donald's colours were decidedly Europe's on an opening morning of fourball which brought nothing but, well, American mourning.

The afternoon foursome barely brought respite for the US, as Donald exhibited a winning performance, partnered by Sergio Garcia, that confirmed why he is regarded by Peter McEvoy as having sufficient qualities to become Britain's next major winner.

Not that he enjoyed a comfortable introduction to Ryder Cup competition. In the wake of the Montgomery-Woods skirmishes, Donald was one of the day's two virgin soldiers who prepared for action in match three. He had been one of Bernhard Langer's wild cards, paired with Irishman Paul McGinley rather than his former Walker Cup partner Paul Casey. Representing the US was Chris Riley, partnered by Stewart Cink.

On the first tee Donald instinctively acknowledged the crowd as his name was announced. He probably wasn't aware of its presence. If all the demons of apprehension began to crowd Donald as he studied the contours of that first fairway, he was aware that tension would be just as attendant on Riley.

Riley's wife Michelle has just given birth to their first daughter, Taylor. Leaving no stone for stimulation unturned, the Daily Oakland Press could not resist a sabre-rattling exhortation to the US team: "Chris Riley doesn't want to have to someday tell his daughter that he celebrated her birth by losing to, among others, a Frenchman, does he?"

Donald, deemed the straight man to McGinley, had been preferred here to Casey for his Ryder Cup "experience" ­ if that tournament-clinching putt at the Belfry two years ago could be described as such. Life-altering might be more apposite, in the same way that other characters, including Paul Way, Philip Walton, Eamon Darcy, have been immortalised by the Ryder Cup over the years. The question was: could this be a similar opportunity for Donald?

To those who charge him with being a bore on the greens, this character who bears the epithet on the American tour of "Plod", the response from Donald's advocates is that he is a British beefeater, protector of the best traditions of golf.

It took a while for that to become evident, though. Donald's opening tee shot tore mischievously into the trees. Having extricated himself without cost, Donald's approach shot at the second fared little better, finding a fairway bunker. With each hole, such aberrations became fewer. Despite those initial difficulties, it was Donald and McGinley who threatened to secure the match. The first five holes were shared in par figures. When McGinley holed a 12ft putt at the next, Europe led in all four games. The European pair twice went a hole up, only for Riley and Cink to negate that advantage and the match was halved. But it was just the prelude to an afternoon in which Europe's domination continued, and Donald impressed as a performer of true class.

As McGinley remarked between sessions: "He was a little bit in shock and obviously nervous. I had a few words with him going down the fairway, and then it was a case of letting him get on with his game. He's only going to get stronger from here in."