By Mark Lamport-Stokes
ARDMORE, Pennsylvania (Reuters) - Like most top golfers, Luke Donald prefers major championship venues to play firm and fast, so the Englishman rues the fact that Merion Golf Club has been softened by heavy rain for this week's U.S. Open.
Since Friday, the iconic par-70 East Course has been saturated by more than five inches of torrential downpours, in Donald's opinion considerably lengthening the list of potential winners of the year's second major.
"The weather brings in a lot more players to have an opportunity," the former world number one told reporters on a sunny Tuesday morning at Merion, where further rain was forecast for later in the day.
"It makes the course a little bit easier. It doesn't play quite as tough. As a top player you want the place to play as tough as it possibly can. Will it change my opportunities? I don't really think so.
"I will probably only hit five drivers out there this week ... five, 6 and 18 are holes where I'd like to get a little bit of roll after my tee shots, because they're very long and I'm going to have long shots in. I'm going to lose that roll."
Merion will measure 6,996 yards off the back tees for this week's championship, making it the shortest U.S. Open since the 2004 edition at Shinnecock Hills Country Club, which played to the same yardage.
Donald, a medium-length hitter with a brilliant short game, expects the narrow fairways and heavily contoured greens of Merion to suit him well, despite rain-softened conditions.
"Certainly a course where I'm only hitting five drivers, a course where I'm hitting a lot of wedges in my hands, plays to my strengths," said Donald, who has yet to win a major title. "I feel like from a hundred yards in I'm pretty good.
"This course demands a lot of good wedge play. Obviously you've still got to do what's pretty important in U.S. Opens, hit fairways and hit greens. That will be a big key for me if I want to be successful."
Perhaps surprisingly, the English world number six does not have a particularly impressive U.S. Open record with three missed cuts and one withdrawal in nine starts, no top-10s and a best finish of joint 12th in the 2006 Open at Winged Foot.
"In U.S. Opens usually success comes from hitting a lot of fairways and hitting a lot of greens, and I think my game is more from the hole backwards," Donald said by way of explanation. "I've always kind of worked that way.
"This year I've made more of a conscious effort to try and change that, to get a little bit more control, to work some things around, spending a little bit more time on the range working on really solidifying a few things.
"It hasn't happened yet, but statistics will show I've improved in those areas. I'll be starting to hit more greens, having more control, more control of my ball flight, and that's what you need out here to be successful."
Donald will tee off in Thursday's opening round at Merion in the company of two fellow former world number ones, Lee Westwood of England and Martin Kaymer of Germany.
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Larry Fine)