- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 16, 2011

It was a dreary, overcast morning with a light rain falling as the U.S. Open began at Congressional on Thursday. For the world’s No. 1 golfer, Luke Donald, it might as well have been sunny skies.

Donald, opening play on the 10th hole, started off as well as he could have hoped. His early shots were the talk of the morning round. Donald birdied his first two holes, then made par on his third.

Then, things quickly went south. He bogeyed five of his next six holes to finish with a 39 after his first nine.

He fared slightly better on the front side, beginning with a birdie on one, followed by a par on his next five. His final three holes were bogey, birdie, par. He finished the first round with a 3-over 74.

Donald had little to say after starting out so well, only to finish in such a disappointing fashion.

“Three over is not great, but I’ll get stuck in tomorrow and shoot something in the red and make good headway,” Donald said. “My start was a little bit too far left, and I need to work on that on the range and get a bit more solid.”

Congressional can be a difficult course to play, especially the 18th green as the finishing hole for the final two rounds. He took a double-bogey 6 there Thursday, playing it as his ninth hole of the day.

“It’s demanding,” he said. “You need a great drive and a great second shot. There’s not much bail-out area. It’s going to be a tough four if you need a four to win.”

Donald was paired with two players he calls friends, Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer, who fared no better than Donald after their first 18 holes. Kaymer also shot a 3-over 74; Westwood shot a 4-over 75.

“It’s always fun playing with guys who are friends, but we obviously all three struggled a bit and couldn’t get much momentum on our side. Hopefully, that will be different tomorrow,” Donald said.

Donald has had little time to enjoy being ranked No. 1; it’s only been two weeks since he claimed the top spot. He possesses a good short game, possibly one of golf’s best, and is known throughout the sport as one of game’s hardest workers.

With perennial No. 1 Tiger Woods injured and sidelined indefinitely, the top ranking could be up for grabs for a while.

Donald will need a bounce-back performance in the remaining rounds to stay at or near the top of golf’s rankings when the Open comes to a close, but he has the game to remain a contender with a field more wide open than it has been in years.