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Europeans really don't have an advantage on links-style courses, says Luke Donald. (Andrew Redington/Getty Images)
Europeans really don't have an advantage on links-style courses, says Luke Donald. (Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

Newlywed Donald hits town optimistic but realistic

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Fresh off his honeymoon and a final-round 64 at the Scottish Open, Luke Donald believes this could be the major where he rises from consistent contender to champion. As good as he feels, though, he knows he's not yet mastered links golf.

By T.J. Auclair, Interactive Producer

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland -- Could this be the one? England's Luke Donald certainly hopes so.

Over the last few years, the 29-year-old Donald -- No. 9 in the Official World Golf Ranking -- has become a serious contender in the majors, but is still in search of that elusive first.

Prior to missing the cut at brutal Oakmont in the U.S. Open last month, Donald had finished in the top 12 in three of his last four majors, highlighted by a tie for third at the 2006 PGA Championship at Medinah, where a final-round 74 proved costly. That tied the 2005 Masters as his highest finish in a major championship.

Fresh off his honeymoon and a final-round 64 in the Barclays Scottish Open at Loch Lomond, the newlywed Donald returns this week to Carnoustie, the site of his first Open Championship.

In 1999 as an amateur, Donald shot a course-record 65 at nearby Panmure -- the qualifying site -- to gain entry into the Open. He missed the cut by two shots, but was paired with eventual champion Paul Lawrie for the first two rounds. Lawrie, coincidentally, is the last European to win the Open Championship.

"I remember him playing very steadily, having good control," Donald said of Lawrie. "It was quite windy that week and he didn't seem to get himself into too much trouble, just seemed to play very consistently.

"Again, he seemed to know what he was doing in the windy conditions and played very, very nicely," he explained. "I think at the halfway stage he was four or five off the lead, but he wasn't really challenging for the tournament, but still you could tell he was happy with his game and he was playing very well."

At face value, many would assume that the links-style golf required at the Open Championship would play into the hands of the Europeans.

Donald doesn't think that's so and recent history backs that statement up. Americans have won in each of the last four years (Ben Curtis, 2003; Todd Hamilton, 2004; Tiger Woods, 2005 and 2006).

"I don't think any of us play that much links golf," Donald said. "Look at the European Tour schedule; there might be a couple of courses which are links style. I think the French Open is a links-style course and the Dutch Open, but there's not too many where it's real links golf.

"Whether it really favors us, I don't know if that's really valid or not. As amateurs we played a lot of links golf on our links golf courses for amateur tournaments, but once you get to the professional ranks you kind of go away from it," he added. "That's why I think this tournament is so unique. We don't really play this golf that much and [it's about] who can come to a new situation and figure it out the best way."

Donald hasn't exactly figured it out just yet. Of the four majors, his worst record is in the Open Championship. In eight starts, he's missed the cut six times and his best finish was a tie for 35th at Hoylake.

Donald has already enjoyed some success on the PGA TOUR, earning the second win last year in The Honda Classic.

While he has every reason to be optimistic after a brilliant 64 in the final round of the Scottish Open on Sunday, Donald was quick to point out that this isn't the first time he's played an Open Championship coming off a strong finish.

"Every year I come here, especially the last few, coming here playing well the week before at Loch Lomond ? I definitely feel like I should be doing better than I have, especially at this championship," Donald said. "I'd like to be winning more tournaments around the world. Golf does take a little bit of time sometimes. You just have to learn not to press, not to get too impatient and hopefully things will come to you. But in terms of winners for this tournament, I think Europeans have as good a chance as anyone."

Come Sunday if Donald has a chance to win, don't expect him to be intimidated by the grand stage. For the first two rounds in 2005 at St. Andrews, he was paired with no less than Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson -- two men who have combined for eight Open Championship wins.

This year for the first two rounds, Donald will be paired with Charles Howell III and Welsh amateur Llewellyn Matthews.

"That's quite different to Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson, Jack Nicklaus playing in his last major is a different kind of pressure," Donald said. "It will be a different kind of atmosphere. I think playing with Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson, there is more pressure, there's a lot more eyes on you.

"But sometimes having that big crowd and that kind of atmosphere does get you concentrating and gets you pumped up a little bit more, sometimes that can go in your favor.

"But also being paired in a smaller, I guess more insignificant group with Charles Howell and whoever the amateur is, kind of can go about your business, not really many people are noticing you, kind of get into the flow of things that way," Donald said. "It's different. I would never take away having that pairing with Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson. It was quite an honor. But at the same time it was quite testing. I think we took about 40 minutes to play the 18th hole, and it was a pretty straight-forward hole at St. Andrews."

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