The Englishman failed to make a single birdie as he struggled to cope with the notoriously difficult Olympic Club course, which punishes even the tiniest of errors.
Donald finished with the same score as 14-year-old Chinese qualifier Andy Zhang who was so nervous in his Major debut that he was trembling on the first tee; and only 13 players shot worse.
"My putter kind of went cold today, otherwise I could have probably ground out some more respectable scores, but this place is tough," Donald said.
Donald was the most consistent golfer in the world last year and finished at the head of the money lists in Europe and the United States.
He has won tournaments on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean this year, yet for all his success the 34-year-old remains dogged by one glaring omission from his CV.
He has finished in the top five at the Masters, The Open and the US PGA Championship but has never finished in the top 10 at the US Open, which is traditionally set up to be the hardest to play.
"At the US Open, the margins are that much smaller and if you're just a little bit off, which I was today, it's tough," he said.
Donald was in the same group as Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy, the world number two, and fellow Englishman Lee Westwood, ranked third.
McIlroy bogeyed three of the last four holes for a 77 to leave his title defence hanging on a thread while Westwood carded a 73 after recovering from a double bogey at the first to play the back nine in one-under.
Collectively, the trio were 19-over for the round and managed a combined total of just three birdies.
"That shows how tough it is. There aren't that many opportunities out there," Donald said.
"It's a challenge. I tried to stay patient, tried to stay positive, but when I had those opportunities on the greens I couldn't take them.
"The US Open demands your full attention and obviously Lee had a good back nine, but Rory and I both struggled."