LYTHAM ST. ANNES, ENGLAND (AP) - If No. 1-ranked Luke Donald is finally going to break through and win his first major this weekend, chances are good he'll have to do it with a backup caddie by his side.
The Englishman gave regular bag-toter John McLaren the day off just ahead of the second round of the British Open to be at his wife's bedside for the birth of the couple's first child.
"I won't pay him for today, obviously," joked Donald, who could afford to laugh after shooting 68 with Gareth Lord as his caddie on a tough scoring day at Royal Lytham. "But, you know, he should be around for the birth."
After an opening-round 70, Donald was 2-under at the midway point, trailing leader Brandt Snedeker by eight shots. For all that, things could have been worse.
Donald didn't learn until 6:30 a.m. Friday, about three hours before the scheduled start of his round, that McLaren had to head down to London. Luckily, Lord was sharing a house with the two and luckier still, he was available to work because his boss, Swede Robert Karlsson, had withdrawn from the tournament earlier in the week.
In one last bit of good fortune, Donald and Lord already had already forged a successful, if somewhat brief, partnership. The caddie also happened to be on Donald's bag at Disney last November, when McLaren took the week off to get married. In what might have been the biggest win of his career, Donald made six straight birdies on the back nine and shot 64, making up a 5-shot deficit to win and complete an unprecedented sweep of the money titles on both the PGA and European tours.
"He knows my game," Donald said. "It was an easy transition."
Yet the round didn't go as smoothly as that made it sound. After a bogey at No. 3, Donald tore off three straight birdies, then nearly gave them all back on the inward nine. A drive into the rough and a fluffed chip led to a bogey at No. 10, followed by another at 13 after a pitch shot from a divot sent his ball into shoulder-high grass alongside the green. He made one final birdie at the 15th by draining a 25-foot putt.
"It was the easy ones I kind of struggled with," Donald said. "Those are the kind of opportunities I'm letting go. I feel if I can be a little bit sharper on the weekend with those ones, I can make a couple more birdies."
If he does, a hometown crowd that's revved up its support with football-styled howls of "L-u-u-u-ke!!!" around the course figures to get louder still. Donald's not certain whether he'll also have the benefit of McLaren's familiar soothing words in his ear, but said, "I told John to not rush.
"For me that was an important thing in my life, to be around for that, especially your first one, and enjoy that experience," Donald said. "But I know what he's like. He's very passionate about his job, as well, and he'll get back here when he's ready."