By Martyn Herman
HOYLAKE England (Reuters) - The bad rounds don't feel as bad and the tough ones are easier to handle these days for Luke Donald but before anyone believes the Englishman has lost his hunger to win a long-awaited major – think again.
With two young children the Chicago-based 36-year-old has more to occupy his time than dawn to dusk practice rounds but the former world number one could never be accused of enjoying the fruits of his distinguished career and settling for easy street.
After all, this time last year he was busy taking apart the swing that had fired him to the top of the rankings, reconstructing it in his quest for perfection.
It is a process he says is only 90 percent complete which perhaps explains why he has arrived at this week's British Open under the radar, rather than riding high on the list of potential champions.
"If the changes improve me just a little bit then it was worth it," said Donald who has missed the cut in two of the last three Opens.
"I'm excited about what I've done and hopefully the results will start to show soon," he told Reuters in an interview after going through his putting routines in pouring rain at the Royal Liverpool Golf Club on the eve of the tournament.
"I didn't have a good 2013 so, compared to three years ago when I went to Sandwich as number one in the world, I'm probably under the radar a little.
"My form this year has been a little inconsistent but I've had some good tournaments and I feel I've reached a place where I can trust my swing.
"I wouldn't surprise myself if I was in the mix this week," added Donald who is an ambassador for Ralph Lauren, official outfitters of the British Open.
"If I get a good start tomorrow I'll have a chance on Sunday."
No Englishman has won the Claret Jug since Nick Faldo in 1992 and while denying that ending that 22-year streak is an obsession, Donald would love to be the man to deliver.
"I've always tried to base my schedule around winning majors and it hasn't happened," he said. "But this one is top of the list.
"Growing up and being British I've seen some of my heroes lift the Claret Jug. I'm not in the country much these days but when you get to an Open you feel how special it is and I would love to win this one more than any other."
Donald said being a young father had given him a better perspective on life and he no longer beats himself up if things do not go to plan on the course.
"I'm more efficient with my practice now but I still work hard," he added. "Family takes precedence sometimes, helping my wife out in the morning with the kids or whatever it might be.
"In terms of my golf, my aspirations and goals have not changed, nor has my work ethic. But the bad days are not as bad when you go home to a smiling two or three-year-old who doesn't care how you played. That makes the tough days easier."
With rain softening the Hoylake greens on Wednesday and the fairways lush, Donald believes most of the field will be licking their lips at the scoring possibilities on offer, although he knows from experience that links courses have a nasty habit of biting back.
"It's a fair course," said Donald who finished fifth at Lytham in 2012 and at Turnberry in 2009.
"There are lots of flat greens and flat areas into greens, not too many humps and bumps.
"The par-fives are pretty reachable for most of the field so I think we will have low scoring unless we have some strong winds.
"It will be fun for the crowd to see some birdies. It's a course that if you are playing well you can score but if you're off you're still going to struggle."
While all his attention is on Thursday morning's opening round with Spaniard Sergio Garcia and American Rickie Fowler, the small matter of the Ryder Cup in September is on the horizon and the European team regular knows he needs some strong finishes to guarantee his place.
"It's in the back of your mind. You don't want to rely on Paul to give you a pick," he said of Captain McGinley.
"I want to go out and play well and I actually feel like I'm rounding into good form. On the range and in practice it's as good as it's ever been so it's just about trusting it and bringing it to the course."
(Editing by Tony Jimenez)