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Luke Donald’s opening win propels Europe to epic Ryder Cup victory

Jonathan Wall
Devil Ball Golf

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Luke Donald / Getty Images

MEDINAH, Ill. — The first match of the day was always going to be the most important for the European Ryder Cup team. Grab the first point and you give the rest of the squad belief. Lose and the "Rout at Medinah" would've likely been on.

Jose Maria Olazabal had to choose wisely. He needed someone who was not only reliable, but could handle the immense pressure of being first out with the Ryder Cup on the line. So he went without someone who's been there before: Luke Donald -- the former No. 1 who knows a thing or two about big match moment.

The decision to slot Donald at the top made sense on paper. However, and up until Sunday's match, the Englishman had been a major disappointment for the European squad -- he entered the week with a sterling 8-2-1 record -- going 1-2 over the first two days of the tournament.

Whether it was the pressure of playing in front of the home crowd -- Donald currently lives in Chicago and went to Northwestern University -- or just the pressure to retain the Ryder Cup, he looked completely out of sorts early on.

If anything, Donald was an unlikely pick to go off first. But when Olazabal released his pairings on Saturday night, Donald found his name at the top of the list, batting leadoff for the Euros against Bubba Watson. It was a massive honor for Donald, who promptly went out and repaid his captain with 2&1 that got the comeback ball rolling.

"The strategy was to get out early and get some blue on the board early," Donald said. "That's what happened in Brookline in 1999."

Just like Tom Lehman, who went out first for the U.S. in 1999, Donald will never receive the fanfare or be remembered like Martin Kaymer for his contribution to the team. But without Donald's win, we likely wouldn't even be talking about a European victory.

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