Catriona Matthew ‘does a Rory’ to sit one off lead

Catriona Matthew discusses a yardage with her caddie during the first round in California. Picture: Getty Images
Catriona Matthew discusses a yardage with her caddie during the first round in California. Picture: Getty Images
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Making the same change Rory McIlroy did a few weeks ago - putting with the left hand below the right on the grip - helped Catriona Matthew make her presence felt on the opening day of the first major in 2016.

Helped by six birdies, the 46-year-old carded a four-under-par 68 at Mission Hills Country Club at Rancho Mirage in California to sit just one shot off the lead in the ANA Inspiration.

The round contained just 29 putts - six less than a two-under-par effort Matthew signed for in last week’s warm-up event, the Kia Classic in Carlsbad.

“I’ve been playing well all year, just not holing any putts,” Matthew told lpga.com after nestling herself in behind the two pacesetters, Japan’s Ai Miyazato and Spaniard Azahara Munoz.

“So I thought I tried left-hand low this week and pulled a few more putts. A couple little shockers, but on the whole putted better is just the difference.”

Matthew, the 2009 Ricoh Women’s British Open champion, has traditionally performed well in this event, finishing second in 2007 and recording a total of 10 top-20s.

Starting at the tenth, she stormed to the turn in four-under 32 thanks to birdies at the 11th, 15th, 16th and 18th. The Scottish No 1 then made two 2s on her back nine

Matthew is making her 18th appearance in this event, but played down the notion that experience can be an extra club in the bag over the next three days.

“I don’t think a whole lot, to be honest,” said added. “I mean, the roughs, you’ve got to hit the fairways. The greens I would say are probably fairly firm this year.

“It’s all about hitting the fairways, I think, to give yourself a chance to get it close.”

In opening with a bogey-free 67 in the morning, Miyazato earned a share of the first-round lead for the first time since the 2013 Pure Silk-Bahamas LPGA Classic.

“I haven’t really played well on this golf course, but finally my game is coming all together,” she said, a statement backed up by her third-place finish behind Lydia Ko in the Kia Classic last weekend.

Munoz, who missed this event last year due to undergoing surgery on her left hand to remove a tumor, opened with her best round of the season.

“It’s funny because I’ve been really working on my attitude, but the results haven’t really showed, even though I’ve been doing so much better,” she said.

“I know I need to keep believing in myself and eventually it’s going to happen. It obviously hasn’t been the easiest of years for me since the surgery and all of that, but I know I’m a good player, and eventually it’s going to happen, so if I keep doing what I’m doing, I think I’ll be okay.”

World No 1 Ko is tied for 14th on two-under, as is England’s Charley Hull. Amateur Bronte Law opened with a one-over 73 to sit just inside the cut line while another English player, Melissa Reid, and Northern Ireland’s Stephanie Meadow carded 74 and 76 respectively.

Elsewhere, Martin Laird is four shots off the lead after an opening four-under-par 68 in the Shell Houston Open.

American Charley Hoffman struck five birdies on the back nine for an eight-under 64 to take a one-shot lead at the end of the first round.

World No 2 Jordan Spieth is three off the pace on five-under while Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler are on three-under.

Laird needs to win in his bid to join Russell Knox and Sandy Lyle in next week’s Masters.