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Tuesday, July 12, 2011
Updated: July 13, 11:42 PM ET
Battle in Britain for Open Championship

By Bob Harig
ESPN.com

SANDWICH, England -- Perhaps it is a bit odd that they are not getting top billing this week amid all the Rory-mania, although it is difficult to deny such enthusiasm for the game's newest superstar.

And yet, maybe that is a good thing for Luke Donald and Lee Westwood, golf's top two players who get to play the world's oldest championship this week on their own turf, but in the shadow of U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy.

Donald and Westwood enter the 140th Open Championship at Royal St. George's in excellent form, both having played well of late and for most of the year, juggling the top ranking with Germany's Martin Kaymer. They've generally performed at a level that suggests their spots atop golf's hierarchy are justified.

But with such accomplishment comes expectation and pressure.

Forget the fact that they get to play the Open in their home country; neither player has won a major championship.

Luke Donald
The pressure is certainly ratcheted up for Luke Donald as he plays his second major as the No. 1 player in the world.

"I really don't think the world ranking has anything to do with my mindset about winning a major," said Donald, 33, who is coming off a victory Sunday at the Barclays Scottish Open. "I've always wanted to win a major since I turned pro, even before that. Growing up, watching some of my idols, the Faldos and the Seves and the like.

"It really doesn't change whether I'm ranked 100 or ranked No. 1. I can't control the ranking system. It's a mathematical thing and it's worked out. I've obviously played well enough to get to the top, but certainly winning a major would be the icing on a year that has been very, very successful so far."

Donald might feel less pressure to win his first major than Westwood, 38, who has been chasing the elusive prize much longer and who has had more chances to win -- thus more scrutiny.

"Well, [I] try not to have too many expectations," said Westwood, who has two victories this year in Asia, one on the European Tour. "Just go out there and try my best, really. Hopefully it's a mathematical progression, third, second, obviously I'm hoping for a first, but we'll see."

Westwood's reference is to the fact he was tied for third at Turnberry two years ago and second last year to Louis Oosthuizen -- although never really in the Sunday mix in 2010 at St. Andrews.

Turnberry a year earlier was a different story as Westwood three-putted the 72nd green, costing himself a spot in the playoff won by Stewart Cink over Tom Watson.

Westwood was also third at the 2008 U.S. Open -- missing the Tiger Woods-Rocco Mediate playoff by a stroke -- and second to Phil Mickelson at the Masters last year.

For Donald, there has been little success in majors. He did tie for fourth this year at the Masters, briefly getting into contention. Beyond that, he has never been a serious threat. His finish at Augusta National was just his fourth top-five in a major, and his Open record is poor.

He missed his first five cuts in the championship -- including eight years ago at Royal St. George's -- with his only top five a tie for fifth two years ago at Turnberry.

"This is the best I've played," Donald said of a stretch that has seen him finish in the top 10 in 16 of his last 18 worldwide starts. "This is the most consistent I've been throughout my whole game, and not just around the greens but tee to green it's getting more and more solid, and I think that's been a key to me playing well and notching up some victories."

Donald has won three times this year, including the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship as well as the European Tour's flagship event, the BMW PGA Championship -- in a playoff over Westwood.

For the most part, Donald has underachieved in terms of victories, winning five times on the European Tour and four times on the PGA Tour -- four of those total victories coming in the past 12 months.

Westwood has a stronger record, with 21 victories on the European Tour and two on the PGA Tour. A decade ago, he had become one of the game's top players, then fell into a slump before returning to the top again.

Both would likely be buoyed by the fact that plenty of players have waited until their 30s to win their first major, including Phil Mickelson in 2004 just before his 34th birthday, or Ben Hogan, who went on to win nine of them but didn't capture his first until he was 34.

Then again, the longer it goes, the more difficult the task becomes. McIlroy, at 22, now knows that no matter what, he's got that 8-shot U.S. Open victory on his résumé.

"It has lifted a huge weight off my shoulders," McIlroy said. "It means that every time I come into a press conference or do an interview I don't have to answer that question, whereas a lot of guys still do. Now I can talk about winning my second one after having won the first. It's a nice pressure to have off of you."

McIlroy wasn't speaking of Donald and Westwood in particular, but he certainly could have been, given their stature and the glaring hole in their résumés.

Undoubtedly both players are keen to get their first major championship victories, perhaps downplaying the pressures. And while this is a "home game" of sorts for both, there is not much advantage to either -- even though Westwood won an amateur event here in 1992.

"There's very few tournaments we play where the golf is anything even similar to this," Donald said. "It's a different set of circumstances, different grasses, different shots. You're having to manipulate the ball a lot more, really control it, and especially when you get [windy] conditions like we had, it's a challenge.

"It's not just standing up there and kind of swinging away; there's a lot more thought to it and a lot more control of the golf ball that's needed, and I think this is a tough one to win."

That said, it is being played in the country of their birth, on their home soil, at a place where a victory by them would be mighty popular.

"It's named after St. George, I guess, so you can't get much more English than that, really," Westwood said. "It's obviously being played in England, which only happens every now and again, and it's the biggest championship in the world as far as I'm concerned.

"It would mean everything, really, to win this championship."

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.