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Donald makes slow start at British Open

SANDWICH, England – Luke Donald blamed his sluggish start at the British Open on a host of near-misses on the greens rather than the pressure of backing up his No. 1 ranking with a first major title.

Donald shot a 1-over 71 in blustery conditions at Royal St. George’s on Thursday, leaving him level with tournament favorite Rory McIlroy after the first round but six strokes off the early pace set by veteran DaneThomas Bjorn.

Despite picking up three bogeys, the 33-year-old Englishman was happy with his overall game but acknowledged his putting let him down.

“I felt like I played a pretty solid round other than some missed opportunities on the greens,” said Donald, who played alongside Spain’s Sergio Garcia and Japan’s Ryo Ishikawa. “I had three or four lip-outs and a few other opportunities that went amiss. It really could have been a very good round.

“A 71 is still solid, but it certainly could have been a little bit better if I’d have had the putter going.”

Along with compatriot Lee Westwood, Donald is one of the most high-profile current players without a major title to his name, and expectations grew even bigger when he won the Scottish Open by four shots last weekend, showing great links form. But he insisted that pressure didn’t affect his game.

“I didn’t really think about it, to be honest,” said Donald, who reached the turn on 1 under after birdies at Nos. 3 and 7. “You try and draw from all the good stuff that got you to No. 1 but … it’s doesn’t feel that much different.”

As the wind picked up, so Donald’s game became slightly ragged on the back nine, dropping three shots between Nos. 11-15 before a third birdie of the round, on the par-4 No. 17 after an excellent approach from the left rough.

“It was a bit of a struggle coming in,” he said. “(No. 17) was my only one-putt green on the back side … that gave me a little momentum and hopefully I can carry that over to tomorrow.”