Sunday 21 January 2018

'Ghastly' three-putt ruins Donald's day

Luke Donald. Photo: Getty Images
Luke Donald. Photo: Getty Images

James Corrigan

FOR 449 holes, 25 rounds, seven tournaments and more than 100 hours, Luke Donald was faultless. Yesterday the streak ended.

An eight-footer stayed above ground and for the first time in 11 weeks the world No 1 had three-putted. Oh, the shame of it.

Of course, Donald would not be the perfectionist he is if he adopted that "so what?" attitude. "I'm upset," he said. "It's the little victories in golf that you look for. I didn't want to miss it."

The 'ghastly' error came on his 16th hole in the first round of the Dunhill Links being played at St Andrews, Carnoustie and Kingsbarns.

In fairness, he was 70 feet away and the seventh green (he started on the 10th) at Kingsbarns is on the notorious side of tricky.

The bogey saw him fall back and eventually sign for a three-under 69, three back from a group on six-under, which included Northern Ireland's Michael Hoey, 2010 British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen from South Africa, Austria's Markus Brier and Spain's Rafael Cabrera-Bello.

Hoey and Brier crafted their 66s at St Andrews, the highlight of the Ballymoney player's round coming at the 18th when he holed a 40-footer for an eagle two from off the green.

There was no need for Donald to be hard on himself after his three-putt. "I suppose it's pretty good considering how fast the greens are in the States," he said."

Pretty good? That is a run of which those such as Lee Westwood could only dream. The world No 2 was actually satisfied with his putting display yesterday after a season in which, to use his own technical assessment: "I've putted crap."

Recently, he sought the guidance of the English putting guru Phil Kenyon. Rhythm was the answer. "It felt much better today," said Westwood after his 68, also at Kingsbarns.

Westwood agreed that with his peerless consistency tee-to-green, he would be "dangerous" if the putter began to oblige. In fact, he would be the world No 1.

Donald is clear in that race and also in the Order of Merit. But with €632,500 on offer at this pro-am, there is still the intriguing possibility he can be caught by the finale in Dubai in December. A dead-eyed Westwood would be the obvious rival to catch him.

Rory McIlroy is actually second on the European money list, £1.5m behind Donald. A 70 at Kingsbarns left him in touch, despite a triple-bogey on the par-three 13th (his fourth).

"I'm glad I had a good partner today," he said referring to his father, Gerry. "He carried me for 11 holes, before I eventually removed my head from my a**e. Solid day in the end."

Most of the best scores came at Kingsbarns, with Northern Ireland's Graeme McDowell shooting a 67 there to be one of six players a shot off the pace on five-under. McDowell, the 2010 US Open champion, revealed that he had turned to former coach Clive Tucker in an attempt to rediscover his best golf.

"At the US PGA Championship things came to a head," McDowell said. "Myself and my caddie had to have a bit of a heart-to-heart as to what we were doing and what we needed to change.

"It was a bit of soul-searching and Clive was the answer, a guy that understands my game very well and was probably a lot to answer for why I played well in 2010.

"I'm not breaking my ties with Pete (Cowen), I still want him to coach me, but I needed another opinion on things.

"I've got more clarity of thought with my game, which excites me. At one point in August, I really wasn't looking forward to a busy schedule at the end of the season."

On a crowded leaderboard, Ireland's Padraig Harrington and Shane Lowry, defending champion Martin Kaymer, former Ryder Cup captain Colin Montgomerie, as well as Westwood, were all just two off the lead after rounds of 68.

Dustin Johnson, the world No 5, was another star attraction at the glorious Kingsbarns links, where more children sought his autograph than that of Hollywood A-lister Michael Douglas.

His game could not quite match the hype, though, as he stumbled to a one-under-par 71.

Former English amateur star Tom Lewis boosted his chances of following in the footsteps of McIlroy and securing his card for next season after a 68 at Kingsbarns.

Lewis shot to fame at the British Open at Royal St George's this summer, shooting a 65 -- the lowest round by an amateur in championship history -- in the opening round. He then helped Great Britain and Ireland win the Walker Cup earlier this month in Aberdeen before turning professional and finishing joint 10th on his debut in the paid ranks in Austria last week.

The 20-year-old has six more events this season to earn around £190,000 he will need to secure full playing rights in 2012, but knows it is certainly possible after US Open champion McIlroy finished third here in 2007 to do just that.

Northern Ireland's Paul Cutler, who failed to make the cut on his debut in Austria, recorded a solid 71 at Kingsbarns, while Peter Lawrie (70), Gareth Maybin (73), Damien McGrane (73), Darren Clarke (73) and Paul McGinley (76) completed the Irish scoring.

Dunhill Links Championship,

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Irish Independent

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