Expectation weighs heavily on Donald
Luke Donald began his US Masters quest yesterday in the hope that his world No 1 status could equate to a first Major title come Sunday night, but an unusually ragged first round threatened to sabotage his efforts irrevocably.
Four-over after 16 error-strewn holes, Donald was already slipping out of contention and looked far from his metronomic self. Normally dialled-in with his iron play, he began to miscalculate his distances from the fairways, carelessly dropping strokes at the fifth and sixth. With bogeys at the ninth, 11th and 13th, he was in danger of stalling altogether.
Perhaps it was the burden of expectation that encumbered Donald, or perhaps it was simply the pressure of following in the contrails of Tiger Woods.
The 34-year-old is known as an automaton off the tee but, having watched Woods duck-hook a ball 220 yards at the first in the group ahead, he proceeded to do almost exactly the same.
Whenever Donald's accuracy is compromised at Augusta, his defences break down.
He remains among the shortest hitters on the circuit and can compensate for that lack of power only by the deftest touch around the greens. But even his watertight short game deserted him yesterday as he lipped out on the first for par.
Careless lapses abounded, not least at the third, a straightaway par-four where he shot his approach through the back of the green, saving par courtesy of a finely judged chip. At the 240-yard fourth he again failed to put the ball close with his hybrid, two-putting from the back of the green.
Where he could afford a lengthy lag putt there, he would not be so fortunate at the sixth, as his ball landed on the wrong side of the spine on this treacherous green and rolled 55 feet away.
His putt from that spot barely crept up the hill and he then miscued a 12-footer, walking off with a four.
Donald tends to project positive body language but even his shoulders were starting to slump following a front nine of 38.
Worse, he still had Amen Corner to come, and this fearsome stretch of the course would exact more damage on his scorecard as he drifted out to four-over, seven off the lead.
He had arrived at this tournament trusting that he could improve on his best finish of third, achieved on debut in 2005, but after last night's struggles that prospect seemed slim indeed. (© Daily Telegraph, London)