Monday 27 February 2017

Donald shows Americans he is ready for battle of Celtic Manor

Oliver Brown in Atlanta

As the sole contender among Europe's Ryder Cup players for a €8.5m treasure chest at the Tour Championship, Luke Donald was again living up to his billing yesterday as the man for the rich occasion.

Starting from seventh in the standings for the ultra-extravagant FedEx Cup prize, Donald surged through the field on a sultry afternoon at East Lake, Atlanta, thanks to an exhibition of inspired putting.

After a remarkable birdie on the 10th, where he holed out from 45 feet, despite leaking his tee shot into the rough, this famously diffident character even allowed himself a most unusual fist-pumping celebration.

Fellow Englishman Paul Casey was also on a charge and the pair set the early mark in the clubhouse, alongside Australian Geoff Ogilvy, on four-under-par 66.

Donald's advance showed the benefit of meticulous preparation. On his Wednesday practice day he had spent some time on the putting green, working out every conceivable vagary of East Lake's glassy surfaces.

Playing with Ernie Els, he began translating that knowledge into an ominous score as early as the tricky 440-yard fourth, draining a 30-footer.

Birdies of similar composure were to follow at the seven, nine, 10, 15 and 17 as Donald overhauled all nine members of the US Ryder Cup team competing here.

A charge often levelled at the 32-year-old is that he lacks ruthless-ness, preferring instead to count some of the €17.7m he has amassed on tour since his college days.

But his victory at this summer's Madrid Masters has transformed him, ensuring his place in the Europe side and instilling a resolve to convert more of his runner-up finishes into wins.

Just to emphasise Donald's Ryder Cup form, four of his American rivals for next week's confrontation were filling out the last seven spots on the leaderboard as he vaulted to the front. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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