Donald stays solid in strong winds to open 2012 season

By Mark Lamport-Stokes

PACIFIC PALISADES, California (Reuters) - Luke Donald was "pretty pleased" after launching his 2012 PGA Tour campaign with a one-under-par 70 at the Northern Trust Open on Thursday in windy weather more reminiscent of a British Open.

Swirling gusts of up to 35 mph made scoring tricky on the slick, small greens at Riviera Country Club but Donald kept errors to a minimum with solid ball-striking and his typically brilliant short game.

'This morning it was freezing and blowing a gale, it was not easy," the British world number one told reporters after carding two birdies and a lone bogey on the iconic Riviera layout.

"This course is tough with benign conditions, so with the added wind the greens are fast. I'm pretty pleased with what I did. The only thing that I struggled a little bit with was the pace on the greens."

Donald, who missed the cut here last year before going on to produce a career-best season on both sides of the Atlantic, was delighted with his course management in the opening round.

"I'm excited about my ball-striking and the way I'm controlling the flight," said the 34-year-old Englishman who won four times worldwide last year. "I'm moving it both ways and feel like I'm driving the ball pretty solidly.

"I'm happy with the work that I've done in the off-season, it seems to be paying off. So far, so good. I just need a little bit of tidying up here and there, but it feels very good."


Watched by a huge gallery as he teed off in surprisingly cold conditions at the driveable par-four 10th, Donald went on to par a 315-yard hole he has always regarded highly.

"I've always said it's one of the best par-fours in the world, there is so much strategy with that one," he said. "Obviously downwind I think most people will go for it (the green) today.

"I thought I hit a perfect second shot there, and the wind just caught it and the ball kept going and going and going," added Donald, whose tee shot there ended up 46 yards left of the hole in light rough.

"If it got much more windy, that hole would have been almost unplayable where that green was."

On his back nine, Donald had to contend with whipping winds that bent the flagsticks almost double and he did well to save par at the 460-yard eighth where his tee shot ended up in a gully between the hole's two fairways.

From there, he failed to reach the green in two but then conjured a magical third shot that left his ball just inches from the cup.

"It's a great design, too. I enjoy the challenge of working it (the ball) both ways. It's still one of those classic courses that I always look forward to coming to."

(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Frank Pingue)