English faves, defending champ struggle at Open

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World No. 1 Luke Donald was the best of the English elite, putting up an even-par 70 that only looked so-so given the calm conditions. A staggering 36 players shot in the 60s, leaving Donald with plenty of competitors to pass and a six-shot deficit to make up on the leader, Australia’s Adam Scott.

“I felt like I played pretty solid,” said Donald, who managed a lone birdie and 16 pars before a bogey on the 18th. “I didn’t get as much out of it as I would have liked. One birdie. But really it was kind of an easy 70.”

There was nothing easy about Westwood’s round. Even though he started with back-to-back birdies, he figured it was more the result of good fortune than good shots. He didn’t feel comfortable with his swing. He knew it wouldn’t last.

At the third, Westwood dumped his approach into a bunker, zipped one out over the green, pitched back on and two-putted for a double-bogey. He rallied a bit with two more birdies, making the turn at 1 under, but the errant shots really caught up with him on the return to the clubhouse. The worst of them came at the 14th, where that pot bunker gobbled up his ball and forced him to improvise a shot just to get it out.

“I can’t remember the last time I had to play a left-handed shot, never mind out of the bunker,” Westwood moaned.

He closed with four bogeys in his last six holes, leaving him more concerned about working out the kinks in his swing than contending for the claret jug.

“You’re going to make a few birdies out there,” Westwood said. “But sooner or later, you’ll get found out.”

Casey was once one of the world’s top-ranked players, until a shoulder injury sent him tumbling to 77th in the standings. He insists that his shoulder is fine, but he’s got to find some consistency in his game. He arrived at Royal Lytham mired in a terrible slump, having missed the cut in nine out of 12 events he’s played this season on the PGA and European tours.

So actually, he found plenty of reasons to be optimistic after shooting a 3-under 31 on the front side. Never mind that he blew up to a 41 on the return nine, making double-bogeys at the 15th and the 17th and closing with a bogey.

“I take a lot of good out of that,” Casey said. “That’s the best golf I’ve played so far this year. That front nine was great. It was wonderful stuff.”

Too bad it didn’t last.

But England’s drought at the Open looks like it will.

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Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

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