Westwood and Donald aim to keep Americans on the ropes - Golf - Sport - The Independent

Westwood and Donald aim to keep Americans on the ropes

The world's top two are in form and should maintain Europe's recent major dominance

Luke Donald is a driven man. As he becomes the first Briton to tee it up in a major as the world number one in 18 years, the Englishman sees the solution to his US Open woes in the big head shining back at him.

Click HERE to view graphic (231k jpg)

Donald's record in golf's toughest event only underlines the billing. His best finish in seven attempts is a tie for 12th and in the last four years he has made the cut just once, last year at Pebble Beach when he came 47th. The reason? Donald has figured it out, meaning he goes into the 111th US Open feeling more confident than ever before.

"If you look at my stats I've really struggled tee to green in the US Open," said Donald yesterday as he applied the final touches to a typically meticulous preparation. "My driving hasn't been accurate enough and I've suffered. But what's really pleased me in the build-up was that I led the driving accuracy charts at The Memorial two weeks ago. It is at least five years since I've done that in any tournament."

Of course there are other factors which force the pulse to quicken when Donald's Congressional candidature is considered. In the last eight months he has racked up 15 top 10s from 16 events. Three weeks ago he won his second title of the year – adding the BMW PGA Championship to the yet more prestigious Accenture Match Play – ensuring that he would fill the void going back to the 1993 USPGA Championship which saw Nick Faldo set out in Toledo as top dog in the rankings.

Interestingly, however, despite his run, despite his ranking, Donald will not begin at the head of the betting markets. The honour will be Lee Westwood's to become the first European to be favourite going into a major, since, you guessed it, Faldo way back in the 90s. If this highlights the strength of the English bid to win a first major since... drum roll... Faldo in 1996 then so, too, should the threeball going off the 10th tee at 8.06am local time today. Never has England boasted the top two in the world going into a major – not even Faldo could pull that one off.

So it perhaps doesn't need Colin Montgomerie to declare "Europeans will win 10 of the next 20 majors" or for Faldo, himself, to say "this is their time". It's all written there in black and white. Five players from the United Kingdom in the top 10, and with Martin Kaymer the third member of the marquee grouping at world No 3 that makes it six Europeans. These riches seem only more plentiful when put alongside the paucity in the American columns. Their recent major record is unprecedented.

Last year at Pebble Beach – when Graeme McDowell became the first European in 40 years to win – no American finished in the US Open top three for the first time in 100 years; at the next month's Open Championship, no American finished in the top three; three months ago, for first time in Masters history, no Americans finished in the top three. There's a trend going on, and even the professional golfer, that most individual of sportsman, is taking heed.

"I think this tournament will tell a lot," said Steve Stricker, the highest-ranked American at No 4. "If an American can win here, maybe we can gain back some of that momentum. It seems to be pro-Europe every week, every major. We are on the ropes a little bit. Everybody sees it. Everybody talks about it."

The talk could very well develop into full-pitch screaming if, in the nation's capital, of all places, the US major drought reaches a record level. This would be the fifth major without a Starred and Striped champion and, with Tiger Woods at home in Florida nursing his Achilles injury and his shattered ego, the soul-searching would be intense. Certainly Phil Mickelson's declarations here on Tuesday – "we have a plethora of great players coming up" – would sound very flat indeed.

As it is, Mickelson must be rated as the best home hope this week. Mickelson, the last US pro to win a major at the 2010 Masters, turns 41 today, but sounded more sprightly than ever when discussing the Congressional course, and more pertinently it's set-up.

Mickelson has finished second in the US Open on five occasions, which is a remarkable record seeing as the penal conditions have hardly suited this erratic driver. But now the USGA have seen the light – Mickelson's light anyway – and have apparently placed some emphasis on the power of the recovery shot. Are they playing into Mickelson's left hand?

"Unlike past US Opens, this set-up tests your entire game," he said. "This one tests your short game. This one tests your ability to hit recovery shots as well as your ability to keep the ball in play."

Mickelson has not been crooning in solo. Yes, there have been concerns raised about the USGA "losing the greens", but the water has been applied and the praise has been similarly gushing.

Westwood names Congressional in his top three favourite courses – Augusta and Pebble Beach being the others – and there has been an obvious swagger in his preparations. On Saturday he owns the favourite – Hoof It – in the Ascot sprint and how he could do with a fast start here this morning.

As Ernie Els, the 1997 champion here, told The Independent, the par-three 10th "is one hell of a way to start a major". And such is the severity of the immediate challenges thereafter, the South African opines that level par after three holes will feel a couple under. That's just as Westwood likes it and he is rated as the principal hope of becoming the 11th different winner from the last 11 majors.

There will be other Euros with weighty followings, not least Rory McIlroy after his heart-breaking 80 in the final round of The Masters. But this place has a Westy feel to it. Straight down the middle, on to the green, two putts, next tee. It sounds boring, but no matter how kindly the USGA have turned, at the US Open boring wins.

Three to watch

The favourite Lee Westwood (12-1, William Hill)

It's tough to separate Westwood and Donald, but the nod just goes to the former. He names Congressional as one of his three favourite courses and with his driving and high ball-flight is eminently suited to the 7,574-yard monster. This could be his breakthrough.

The dark horse Retief Goosen (66-1, Coral)

The greens are going to be ridiculously quick and when his touch is in there's nobody better on lightning surfaces than the ice-cool South African. Has won this event twice and has been threatening in majors of late. The Goose may not yet be cooked.

The rank outsider Anthony Kim (125-1, William Hill)

On a dreadful run of form, Kim's interest in the game seems to be waning. But he has won here before and if he can return to anywhere near his best, his odds will appear ludicrous. Be careful if placing a bet, however. There happen to be four players in the field with the same surname.

Selected tee-off times

US unless stated; times BST

12.44pm M Kuchar, P Casey (Eng), K J Choi (Kor)

*12.44pm P Harrington (Irl), A Cabrera (Arg), S Cink

12.55pm G McDowell (N Irl), P Uihlein (amateur), L Oosthuizen (SA)

*1.06pm L Donald (Eng), L Westwood (Eng), M Kaymer (Ger)

1.17pm E Els (SA), D Love, J Furyk

1.28pm J Rose (Eng), T Clark (SA), J Day (Aus)

6.13pm M Wilson, M Laird (Sco), P Hanson (Swe)

*6.35pm R McIlroy (N Irl), D Johnson, P Mickelson

6.57pm R Fowler, I Poulter (Eng), H Mahan

* Start on 10th hole

TV Sky Sports 2, 3pm-midnight.

John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
peopleThe report and photo dedicated to the actress’s decolletage has, unsurprisingly, provoked anger
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
The programme sees four specialists creating what they believe are three perfect couples, based on scientific matchmaking. The couples will not meet until they walk down the aisle together
tvUK wedding show jilted
Arts and Entertainment
US pop diva Jennifer Lopez sang “Happy Birthday” to Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, president of Turkmenistan
musicCorporate gigs become key source of musicians' income
Arts and Entertainment
You've been framed: Henri Matisse's colourful cut-outs at Tate Modern
artWhat makes a smash-hit art show
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
Mikel Arteta pictured during Borussia Dortmund vs Arsenal
champions league
Yes supporters gather outside the Usher Hall, which is hosting a Night for Scotland in Edinburgh
voicesBen Judah: Is there a third option for England and Scotland that keeps everyone happy?
Arts and Entertainment
Pulp-fiction lover: Jarvis Cocker
booksJarvis Cocker on Richard Brautigan
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke and Pharell Williams in the video of the song, which has been accused of justifying rape
music...and he had 'almost no part' in writing it
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week