Acknowledging he was intimidated playing alongside Tiger Woods in the British Open at Royal St. George, he hired sports-performance coach Jim Fanning to help boost his confidence.
Unfazed by playing in Thursday's first round with Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson, the Englishman shot a 4-under 68 at St. Andrews, rolling in four birdie putts -- one from 30 feet -- and chipping in another.
'I know he's capable of winning it,' Nicklaus said. 'And he's going to win some. It's just when is the question.'
Said Watson: 'He has a great putting stroke. It makes up for some mistakes, it always did for me.'
Instead of changing his game to suit links golf, Donald decided to take his game to the swales, pot bunkers and hard fairways of the Old Course.
'I think it's just playing to my own strengths, not changing my game that much that has really helped today,' he said. 'I think in the past I've gotten a little too caught up in trying to adapt my game too much to links style.'
The adulation surrounding Nicklaus and Watson was more motivation than distraction.
'It was a lot of fun out there playing with those two greats,' he said. 'The atmosphere was amazing.'
A European hasn't won a golfing major since 1999. Scotsman Paul Lawrie was the last to do so, a surprise at the Open at Carnoustie.
This is the 24th major since then. In that span, Denmark's Thomas Bjorn has two second-place finishes in majors. Sergio Garcia, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Niclas Fasth and Thomas Levet also have been runners-up.
Though he's never made the cut at the British Open, he's No. 15 in the world ranking and has been close to winning several big tournaments this season. He was third in the Masters, and second in The Players Championship and Buick Invitational. He tied for fifth last week in the Scottish Open at Loch Lomond.
'It's just a good, solid start, nothing more than that,' said Donald, a former NCAA champion at Northwestern. 'Three rounds to go. If the winds stays like this, if I shoot another three 68s, I might be close. But who knows.'
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