Catriona Matthew had mixed emotions after battling back from a poor start to boost Britain’s hopes of marking golf’s return to the Olympics with a golden double in Rio.
After Justin Rose won the first gold medal for 112 years in the men’s competition on Sunday, Matthew and team-mate Charley Hull were attempting to win only the second-ever women’s event in the Games at Reserva de Marapendi.
Matthew’s bid to emulate American Margaret Abbott, who thought she was entering the Ladies’ Championship of Paris when she won a nine-hole event in 1900, did not start well with a double bogey on the third.
But the 46-year-old Scot, the oldest player in the 60-strong field, bounced back with a birdie from 12 feet on the sixth and another from close range on the ninth to reach the turn in level par.
Another birdie on the 11th took Matthew into red figures but a bogey on the 13th followed by five straight pars meant she had to settle for a level-par 71, six shots behind leader Carlota Ciganda.
“I’m a little bit disappointed,” Matthew said. “I had a lot of chances the last five or six holes and hit some good putts that didn’t go in, but I suppose overall I am still in it and that’s the main thing. It was a tricky pin [on the third hole] and I probably shouldn’t have been so aggressive. I plugged it in the bunker and it led to an easy double.
“I hit good birdies on six and nine to get back in it and played really well from the sixth hole on.
“I think it’s a really good course, a good test. The fairways look wide but play a bit narrower than they look. You’ve got to get it in the right spots and putt well.”
Asked about the overall experience after teeing off in the second group, Matthew added: “It’s been great. I was a little bit nervous on the first tee but it’s nice to get started.
“I don’t think it feels any different from a regular event. I think come Saturday if you’re in with a chance of a medal it will feel different, but at the moment it’s just trying to get in position.”
Hull was in the final group out alongside Solheim Cup team-mate Anna Nordqvist and world No 1 Lydia Ko, with nine of the world’s top ten in a strong field.
The 20-year-old made the ideal start by reaching the front of the green on the par-five opening hole in two to set up a birdie, and also birdied the par-five fifth after a dropped shot on the previous hole. Hull also birdied the ninth to reach the turn in 33 before a two-putt birdie on the par-five 10th took her to three under par, just two behind clubhouse leader Inbee Park.
At 28, seven-time major champion Park is the youngest player to qualify for the Hall of Fame, but she has not broken par on the LPGA Tour since April as she battles a ligament injury in her left thumb.
That forced her to miss out on defending her title in the Women’s British Open last month, but there were few signs of any problems in Rio as she carded five birdies in a flawless 66.
“I haven’t played for a while and I haven’t played well for a while so I wanted to go out and play well,” Park said.
“I had a lot of pressure. I was quite nervous. Some people thought I should give my chance to another player.
“ I knew I could compete out here, but a lot of people were doubting.”