US Open: Luke Donald stays in hunt for first major

Luke Donald was satisfied to remain in contention for the US Open title. Picture: AP

Luke Donald was satisfied to remain in contention for the US Open title. Picture: AP

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England’s Luke Donald was yesterday just one shot off the clubhouse lead in the delayed second round of the US Open as Merion proved beyond doubt it had stood the test of time.

Donald held a one-shot lead over five-time US Open runner-up Phil Mickelson when play was suspended due to darkness on Thursday evening following two delays for bad weather totalling more than four hours.

Play resumed at 7:13am yesterday morning and Donald three-putted two of his last five holes to card a two-under 68, before returning to Merion’s East Course 90 minutes later to shoot a second-round 72.

That left him level par and one behind American Billy Horschel, who carded a superb 67 to equal the lowest round of the week so far.

Donald’s rollercoaster round featured four birdies and six bogeys, four of them coming in succession from the fourth, and he said: “You’re going to make mistakes, I need to try to minimise those mistakes over the next couple of days.

“This is a tough course and it’s obviously showing that you don’t need a course to be ultra long to make it difficult.”

At 6,996 yards, Merion was feared to be too short by modern standards and last staged a US Open in 1981, but Donald added: “I think Merion is holding its own, for sure.”

The 35-year-old has never recorded a top-ten finish in the US Open and last led a major at the 2006 US PGA Championship, but always felt the course would suit his game.

“I would love to be a couple of shots better, but certainly I think come the end of round two I’m going to be in a good place,” he said.

“I’d take a couple under (as a winning score) right now. I’m excited to be in contention, and have a chance.

“Obviously I haven’t played very well in the US Open before, but when I saw this place last week I thought it was a good fit for my game. And obviously it’s nice to come here and feel like I’m swinging pretty well and I’ve got a chance.

“Hopefully I can throw a good one in tomorrow and really be in the mix come Sunday.”

Playing partner Lee Westwood had resumed on one under after a double bogey on the 12th on Thursday when his third shot to the par-four 12th clattered into one of the wicker baskets used instead of a standard flag and rebounded back off the front of the green.

He bogeyed the 17th on his way to an opening 70 and then offered a typically sardonic response when asked about the incident.

R&A chief executive Peter Dawson was the rules official with his group and Westwood said: “Peter Dawson has assured me we will be going back to flags for the Open Championship, like normal people.”

Westwood felt he was still in a good position but struggled to a second round of 77 that left him seven over par and facing a long wait to see if that would make the cut.

World No 1 Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy could well be paired together for the third round in succession today after matching rounds of 73 and 70 left them three over, while the third member of that group – Masters champion Adam Scott – was alongside Westwood on seven over after rounds of 72 and 75.

Woods had winced in apparent pain from his left arm on several shots out of the rough but refused to go into details about how he had injured his elbow during his victory at the Players Championship last month. “It is what it is and you move on,” he said.

Knox thrilled to hit the ground running

ONLY five players were under par when the delayed first round of the 113th US Open was completed yesterday, but Russell Knox was not about to complain.

That was understandable given that a round of 69 meant Knox was one of the elite quintet, but the Florida-based Scot was also determined to enjoy every minute of his major championship debut.

“It’s mayhem here, especially with the weather and the transportation,” Knox, 27, said, a reference to Thursday’s two weather delays totalling more than four hours and the compact tournament site which means the range is on Merion’s other course.

“It’s unbelievable [but] it’s as good as I would have ever hoped. I’m thrilled. I didn’t really know what to expect in my first major, but I knew I was capable of a nice round and made some nice putts and hung in there. It’s hard though. If you get on the wrong side of the hole, you’re in big trouble. I was lucky enough to leave myself some makeable putts today, but it’s going to be a struggle though.

“It’s tough, but I’m definitely not in a position to complain. My first major, I’m just thrilled to be here and so you won’t hear any complaining out of me.

“You always get a bit of nerves looking at a leaderboard and if I continue playing well the nerves will come in, but that’s what we live for. I feel like I bring my best golf out when I have that feeling.”

Knox, who won more than half a million dollars on the PGA Tour last year, added: “I moved to the States to go to college in 2004 and stayed here since in Jacksonville, Florida.

“I miss Scotland and the UK obviously but it is easy to live in Jacksonville. My parents live there also and my sister is in Glasgow. She is jealous sometimes of us living here but she has a nice job [at a local radio station]. I’ve got a good crowd with me this week – my parents, my coach and a few people supporting me so it is nice.”

Chris Doak, also making his debut in a major championship, was the next best Scot on the first-round leaderboard. He was disappointed with an opening 73 but made plenty of friends at Merion.

Doak’s idol Ben Hogan won the 1950 US Open at Merion and the Scot’s Hogan-style white flat cap went down well with the galleries.

“The crowds were smashing and I’m happy,” Doak said of a three-over-par round which would have been much better if not for bogeys at the last two holes. “It was my first taste of a major and I loved it. It was brilliant. I had a few shouts from the crowd about my hat so I gave them a bow. They said they loved it. They are friendly people.”

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