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Rory McIlroy may be the talk of golf after his record-shattering performance at last month’s U.S. Open, but Luke Donald made clear on Sunday that he remains the man to beat.

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As a tune-up for this coming week’s Open Championship, the world No. 1-ranked Donald shot a 9-under 63 to win the weather-shortened Scottish Open at Castle Stuart Golf Links at Inverness, Scotland.

The win was Donald’s third of 2011, but first since assuming the No. 1 mantle. And it will send him to Royal St. George’s on a positive note.

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“I only see this as a positive,” Donald said. “I’ll be high on confidence. I’m hitting the ball nicely and to do it on a links course is even better. I’m looking forward to bringing this game to next week.”

Donald was expected to contend at last month’s U.S. Open, but he struggled early and eventually tied for 45th. Afterward, Donald admitted to being mentally and physically drained from being in contention through much of 2011.

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“I think the last six or seven weeks has taken a lot out of me,” said Donald, 33, following his final round. “I’ve certainly been in contention a lot, played a lot of golf in different countries, different time zones, and I probably haven’t got my energy levels quite back up to where I would have liked them to be at the beginning of this week. But no excuses, I just didn’t play well enough.”

Upon leaving Congressional Country Club, Donald shut down his game for two weeks and vacationed in Italy.

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This week, Donald was as sharp as at any point this season. The start was his third since becoming No. 1, and the first time he demonstrated the mettle of a champion.

“There’s always a little added pressure when you’re No. 1, but hopefully I’ve proved I can handle that,” he said. “It was a pretty strong field this week and the best way to prepare.”
After missing the cut in his first five Open Championship appearances, Donald had three mediocre performances. Donald’s coming of age at the Open came two years ago when he tied for fifth. Last year, he tied for 11th.

“I felt good out there, very comfortable, very in control,” he said. “That’s a good sign for next week.”

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Stuart Hall is editor of the Golf Press Association.