ON A day when it felt as though winter had arrived early on the East Lothian coast, the sight of so many Saltires in the top ten certainly warmed the hearts of the hardy souls out watching the final day of the Aberdeen Asset Management Ladies Scottish Open.
Not for the first time in her glittering career, pride of place went to Catriona Matthew, as the 44-year-old from North Berwick claimed victory in her home event for the second time in three years on the Fidra course at Archerfield Links.
In brutally tough conditions – only six players posted sub-par rounds in winds gusting close to 30mph – Matthew signed off with a two-under 70 for an eight-under-par total of 208, winning by two shots from England’s Hannah Burke after she closed with a best-of-the-day 68.
It was Matthew’s 11th victory in the paid ranks, earning her a cheque for £27,000, yet equally encouraging for the future of the Scottish ladies’ game was the fact that three of her compatriots – Carly Booth, Pamela Pretswell and Heather MacRae – also finished in the top ten.
“This feels just as special as two years ago,” said Matthew in reference to her ten-shot triumph on that occasion. “Any win is difficult and the conditions were tough. Hannah pushed me the whole way, so I’m pleased to have come out with a win.”
The writing was on the wall for the rest of the field after the world No 10 made her move with an ominous thrust on Saturday morning, when she carded six birdies in a five-under-par 67 – the best round of the tournament.
It earned her a three-shot cushion heading into the final round and, though it wasn’t exactly pleasant for the spectators, the cold and windy final-day conditions probably suited Matthew, as it reduced the chances of someone coming out of the pack with a low score.
She quickly increased her advantage with a first birdie of the day at the par-5 second, where a huge wind-assisted drive set up a straightforward approach. It trickled off the green, but she almost chipped in for an eagle to leave a simple tap-in.
The leader then moved six ahead when she holed from eight feet to birdie the sixth, the second of the long holes on the Fidra Links, before giving one of those gains back at the ninth. With the wind gusting straight down the par-4 from the green, her approach came up short and found a badly-plugged lie in a front greenside bunker.
Refreshingly in the modern-day professional game, there was no faffing around and mulling over options. There was only one and that was to splash out almost sideways. It led to her first bogey of the day, but the damage could have been worse and, in any case, she had a comfortable cushion.
All of a sudden, Burke, a 25-year-old from Welwyn Garden City, became the only possible threat. It followed her picking up an eagle at the 11th then birdieing the next to move to five-under for the tournament.
Briefly, she trailed by just two before Matthew birdied the 11th then effectively sealed her success in style with back-to-back birdies at the 14th and 15th. Both playing into the wind, she holed 30-foot putts at each.
A double-bogey 6 at the 16th, coupled with a Burke birdie at the last, meant it was no procession on this occasion, but two solid pars to finish secured a deserved and popular victory.
Booth, the defending champion, finished joint-fourth – alongside compatriot Pretswell – after making her first cut since the Turkish Ladies Open in May. “I’m pretty happy how I played this week,” said the 21-year-old after signing for a third successive 73. “This has helped my confidence and if I can win again before the end of the season, then that would be awesome.”
Pretswell, playing her first full season on the LET, battled back from dropping four shots in three holes on the front nine to sign off with a 74 as she recorded her best finish on the circuit. “I really needed that as I’ve maybe only got two events left this year and, hopefully, this will be enough to keep my card,” said the 24-year-old from Bothwell Castle.
MacRae also chalked up her best effort on the LET in what is likely to be her only appearance on the circuit this season. A closing 70 – ten shots better than her second-round effort – saw her leap 38 places into a tie for sixth on four-over.
In the team event, former Liverpool and Scotland defender Alan Hansen finished in top spot with a 22-under-aggregate. “To say it was windy out there would be an understatement,” said the four-handicapper, who lives in a house overlooking Royal Birkdale but plays his golf at neighbouring Hillside. “At the 14th, for instance, I hit a 6-iron from 120 yards.”
Playing with Trish Johnson, Hansen looked to have his work cut out after watching Andy Nicol open with a 13-under 59 on Friday, but the former Scotland rugby captain had informed organisers at the start that he could only play in the opening two rounds.
“This is a great tournament and a great place,” added Hansen, before catching the Liverpool versus Manchester United game on TV in the clubhouse. “I’ve been up here three or four times in the past and I’m back up soon for the Ian Botham Classic.”