Donald boosts Open chances with opening 70

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Luke Donald missed out on qualifying for the next two majors last week, but he took a big step toward solidifying his summer schedule with a 1-under 70 at the Irish Open.

Donald battled difficult conditions during his opener at Royal County Down, carding five birdies against four bogeys to move within a shot of the early clubhouse lead.

Ranked No. 1 in the world less than three years ago - and No. 33 at the start of this year - Donald's tumble through the world rankings has continued this season. He needed to be ranked inside the top 50 after the BMW PGA Championship to secure a berth in the Open Championship field, while a spot in the OWGR top 60 would have netted him a ticket to the U.S. Open.

Instead, the Englishman dropped from No. 60 to No. 65 after a T-38 finish at Wentworth, and is now in danger of missing a major for the first time since the 2008 PGA Championship.

While Donald could be making a rare appearance in upcoming qualifiers, both majors offer additional chances for exemptions. The U.S. Open has a secondary OWGR cutoff on June 15, so if Donald moves back into the top 60 by then he would punch his ticket to Chambers Bay. A strong showing this week would go a long way toward boosting his ranking, which is currently at its lowest point since June 2004.

The Open Qualifying Series for the year's third major also continues this week. The top three players within the top 10 at the Irish Open who are not already exempt will earn automatic spots for the Open Championship. Similar golden tickets will be available at the French Open and the Scottish Open, as well as the three PGA Tour events between the U.S. Open and Open Championship.