Donald delivers when it matters most

MEDINAH, Illinois Sat Sep 29, 2012 11:01pm EDT

1 of 2. Team Europe golfer Luke Donald reacts to his tee shot on the 17th hole during the afternoon four-ball round at the 39th Ryder Cup golf matches at the Medinah Country Club in Medinah, Illinois, September 29, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Jim Young

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MEDINAH, Illinois (Reuters) - Luke Donald is not nicknamed 'Cool Hand' for nothing. Like the famous film character, the Englishman is utterly unflappable.

Donald has held the number one ranking for 55 weeks, on and off over the past two years, and led the money list on both the European and U.S. PGA tours.

Yet his achievements have never garnered the same attention as his contemporaries, mostly because of his failure to win a major, and it has irritated him.

Although he has lived in Chicago for the past 15 years, close to the Medinah Country Club where the Ryder Cup is being held, the American crowds have delighted in reminding him about the one thing missing from his resume.

And for the first day and a half, Donald played like a lame duck, losing his morning foursome matches on Friday and again on Saturday.

But the unique format of the Ryder Cup not only produces suffocating pressure, it offers opportunities for redemption, and Donald delivered when it mattered most.

On Saturday afternoon, things finally took a turn for the better.

He was paired with Sergio Garcia and the two made a flying start in their match with Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker, opening up a four-up lead at the turn after Donald birdied the eighth and ninth holes.

Then just as quickly, the momentum shifted away from them. The Americans won the 10th hole then the 12th and the 13th and the margin was back to one.

Donald birdied the 15th to restore the two-hole margin but Woods birdied the 16th to bring it back to one then hit his tee shot on the par-three 17th to within six feet of the hole.

When Donald walked to the tee box, the massive gallery that had assembled around the green were still roaring with delight and the pressure was on but Donald didn't blink.

Like a poker player with a handful of aces, he struck his shot within three feet of the pin then duly made his birdie putt. The Europeans halved the last hole and won the match to go into the final trailing 10-6 but with a glimmer of hope.

"We hung in there and we were able to match birdies on 17, which was key to us and hold on there at the last.

"That was big. Having both of those matches turn our way has really given the European side a lift that we needed. It's given us a heartbeat for tomorrow."

The odds are still stacked against the visitors retaining the Cup as they need to win at least eight of the 12 available points on Sunday.

Needing a fast start, Europe's captain Jose Maria Olazabal picked Donald for the opening game, where he was drawn against Bubba Watson.

"It's nice to leave tonight with the momentum that we will carry forward to tomorrow," Donald said.

"Seeing those putts go in, that's certainly given us a lift."

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