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Time for Donald to take his chance to shine
IT might not have made up for his failure to win a Major, but Colin Montgomerie was nevertheless able to draw a great deal of satisfaction and fulfilment from his playing record in the Ryder Cup.
The Scot was a member of the European team on eight occasions and never lost a singles match. His points tally of 23.5 was only one-and-a-half behind the overall record held by Nick Faldo, he claimed the half-point that won the trophy in 1997 and, in probably the high point of his career, sank the winning putt in the 2004 renewal.
He used the team setting of the Ryder Cup to reach heights he never quite scaled during his individual career, but this unique biennial event can do that. It can create heroes out of players who might otherwise be destined to narrowly miss out on greatness.
Why is that relevant today? Because when he tees up his ball for the opening round of foursomes at Medinah Country Club, Luke Donald should have Montgomerie's experiences in his mind.
Like the former European captain, Donald is a multiple tour winner who has thus far failed to translate his form to the four rounds of a Major. Like the former European captain, he should view the Ryder Cup as a golden opportunity to shine.
If the European team are to successfully defend their trophy over the next three days, they will surely need their biggest names to come to the fore.
Much of the focus in the last couple of weeks has been trained on Rory McIlroy, but it is easy to forget that this is just the Ulsterman's second Ryder Cup. He might be a two-time Major winner and the current world number one, but is it fair to pile the pressure of being team leader onto his admittedly broad shoulders?
Probably not. Similarly, Lee Westwood has enough to think about in terms of his own form without charging him with the task of taking the fight to America.
Graeme McDowell commands respect on both sides of the Atlantic, and was Europe's talisman as they edged a thriller at Celtic Manor two years ago.
But given that he has been in the top three of the rankings all season, is effectively playing on his home course after living in Chicago for almost all of his adult life and is embarking on his fourth Ryder Cup, isn't it about time that Donald lived up to his billing?
A naturally shy and self-effacing character, the 34-year-old is never going to be a fist-pumping leader in the manner of say Ian Poulter.
Yet inspiration can be generated in many different ways, and if Donald sets the tone with some aggressive, dominant golf in today's opening two sessions, he could easily find himself hailed as Europe's de facto on-course skipper.
He is certainly talented enough, and conditions over the next three days should play to his strengths. Medinah's wide, expansive fairways should be perfect for his big-hitting game, while the Ryder Cup tends to be decided by who putts best, and Donald is widely acknowledged to be as good as there is around the greens.
His record in previous Ryder Cups is impressive – of his 11 matches, he has won eight, halved one and lost just two – and provided he starts well in his opening foursomes, there is every chance of him being involved in all five sessions.
The only question mark is over his temperament, not so much because he crumbles under pressure but because he seems either unable or unwilling to seize centre stage and really take a major tournament by the scruff of its neck.
His best rounds in Majors tend to come on a Sunday, when he can charge through the pack without any realistic prospect of actually being involved in the final shake-up.
Today, he needs to be at it from the off. This is a strong United States team that always tends to get better as the Ryder Cup progresses. Europe cannot afford to be chasing going into Sunday's singles, so today's foursomes and fourballs will be crucial.
If Donald can claim two points, Jose Maria Olazabal's side will be well on the way to securing an overnight advantage. It is time for one of British sport's quiet men to find his voice.
MUCH has been written about the unsavoury after-match chanting that soured an otherwise uplifting tribute ahead of Sunday's game between Liverpool and Manchester United.
There is no excuse for the lapse into bitter tribalism that saw a handful of supporters from both clubs engage in some unsavoury acts.
But I've been watching football for long enough now to know that alcohol and immaturity is an unsatisfactory mix.
Eye witnesses claim that most of the transgressors at the weekend were 16 and 17-year-olds hoping to make a name for themselves. Their crass naivety is regrettable, but sadly misguided misbehaviour is what drunken teenagers, whether football fans or not, occasionally engage in.
THE opening stages of global cricket competitions have long been a problem, and the first round of the World Twenty20 has been yet another complete non-event.
There clearly has to be a balance between giving the non-Test playing nations a chance to compete on the biggest stage and attempting to ensure that the best teams progress to the later rounds of the competition, but the compromise in Sri Lanka has been all wrong.
A series of meaningless, uncompetitive matches, a schedule that means most teams are either through or out when they play their final group game and some inclement weather has combined to serve up a dud.
Once again, it's back to the drawing board for the ICC.
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