- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 17, 2012

LYTHAM ST. ANNES, ENGLAND (AP) - Even in his native land, the man ranked as the top golfer in the world can’t draw a crowd.

Not in the press tent Tuesday, where Luke Donald was greeted by rows of empty seats just an hour after Tiger Woods spoke before an overflowing crowd. And not on the golf course, where Donald played a practice round in which even his best shots into greens were rewarded with only a few smatterings of applause.

“It just seemed eerily quiet, not many claps and cheers when you hit good shots into the greens,” Donald said. “I don’t know if that was just me. I played with Lee (Westwood) and I played with Sergio (Garcia) today. And it’s not like I’m just not playing with anyone.”

That, of course, would change on Sunday if Donald is in contention for his first major championship. So would the way people look at Donald, who may reign as the No. 1 player in the world but is not generally accorded the respect given winners of majors.

Getting to Sunday when it counts most, though, has always been the issue for Donald.

He’s won around the world, and played so well and so consistently that he climbed to the top of the world rankings. Until he wins one of the four major championships, though, Donald will find it difficult to be ranked among golf fans as the best player in the world.

Donald understands that, just as the 34-year-old from Hempstead, England, knows that he must get his emotions under control if he is ever to have the kind of breakthrough he needs.

“I think the remedy has to come from me,” Donald said. “It’s taken a bit of time for that to drop, that thought to drop, because I just have been getting a little bit too uptight and anxious. It’s a very normal mode to switch into because the pressure is that much more. You want it that much more.”

Donald doesn’t have much from his previous Open experiences to make him terribly confident going into the tournament at Royal Lytham and St. Annes. In nine appearances since turning pro he’s missed the cut four times and finished in the top 10 only once.

But his ability to scramble and find a way to get the ball in the hole could make him a contender on a course where Seve Ballesteros so famously sprayed the ball everywhere in 1979 in a closing finish where he chipped from a car park on the 16th hole on his way to his first major championship win.

Donald got his years wrong when asked about how Ballesteros managed to somehow find a way to win 33 years ago, but agreed the principle of play was the same.

“I think that should give me some heart, that I’ve not always been known as the guy who hits it consistently tee to green, but I have a great short game,” Donald said. “I have great skills to get the ball in the hole no matter how I’m playing, and I think that’s what won him the Open championship.”

Donald’s performance so far this year has been about as up-and-down as his trip through the rankings, where he has now held the No. 1 spot four different times since Woods fell down the rankings.

He won the BMW PGA Championship _ the biggest event on the European Tour _ in May, vaulting back into the No. 1 position in the process. That set up high expectations that he would break through and win his first major in the U.S. Open, but he ballooned to a 79 in the opening round and wasn’t even around Olympic Club to play on the weekend.

Still, he’s held the top spot for 53 weeks in all, something only four players have surpassed since the world rankings began in 1986. He’s won 12 times on two different tours, and pulled off a feat no player had ever done when he led both the PGA Tour and the European Tour in money won.

Still, he has yet to get that elusive first major. And those are the titles that define players, especially in the Woods era.

Donald knows the expectations, and knows what he has to do to finally get over the hurdle. If he is going to become the first Englishman to win the Open on English soil since Tony Jacklin in 1969 he must find a way to deal with his emotions and overcome the pressure of this major championship

“So far, so good,” he said. “I’m feeling pretty relaxed. I’m feeling comfortable. Had a good couple of practice rounds, no real issues so far. So obviously time will tell when it comes to Thursday. But I’m happy with the preparation so far.”

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