CHARLEY Hull has a wonderful devil-may-care attitude and it paid dividends yesterday when she shot a best-of-championship six-under-par 66 in the third round of the Ricoh Women’s British Open at Royal Birkdale.
A mere scattering of players have managed to beat par over the first three days but the bright and breezy English teenager threw caution to the wind and stuffed nine birdies into a round. She had twos at each of the four short holes and soared into the top ten and just three behind the leader, Inbee Park.
Park shot a four-under-par 68, although it took a dramatic turn of events at the end for her to earn the lead on four-under 212.
Another South Korean, Sun Ju Ahn, holed out for a 69 but was then penalised two shots for infringing rule 13-3/3 and “building a stance” in the greenside bunker at the 18th. So she had to accept a 71 for a share of second place with China’s Shanshan Feng and Norway’s Suzann Pettersen.
Last year, Park arrived at St Andrews with the season’s first three majors in the cabinet and chasing a place in history by making it four in a row. She never really threatened and American Stacy Lewis walked off with the trophy. So this year there is a little bit of unfinished business.
“Last year I loved the fact that I had won three majors and I sort of enjoyed the pressure,” said Park, whose four-under round was a fitting way to celebrate her 26th birthday. “But I’ll definitely enjoy this year more if I win tomorrow.
Pettersen won the fifth and newest major on the women’s circuit last year at the Evian Championship and she filed a great 68 to head the European challenge. Hindered by a back injury for the first part of this season, the 33-year-old is hungry for success.
Her four-under round included an eagle, birdie finish. “I feel in good shape,” said the Solheim Cup heroine who is also a former LPGA champion. “The back’s fine and it is one of my career goals to win every major.”
Hull enjoyed a string of second places in her rookie season on the Ladies’ European Tour and it resulted in her being awarded a wild card selection for Europe’s Solheim Cup team. It was an inspired pick as she was one of the star turns in Europe’s historic first win on US soil at Colorado Golf Club last August.
This year, she has claimed her first Tour win in Morocco and is clearly a real star in the making.
“I said to my dad on Friday night that I wasn’t out of the championships,” said Hull, who was 11 off the pace at halfway. “After all, Paul Lawrie was ten behind with just a round to play in the Open at Carnoustie and he won.”
The Woburn youngster is known as an aggressive player who knows no fear. They are traits that have long been associated with Laura Davies, and the 50-year-old admits she is a fan of the 18-year-old prodigy. Now Dame Laura, following her award in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List, she also showed form with a 72 for three-over-par overall. Afterwards, she was happy to heap praise on Hull. “She reminds me of me,” said the four-time major champion and the winner of this title at Birkdale in 1986. “She’s got the right attitude and will go a long way. She’s naturally gifted and when she wins her first one in America then her career will really take off.”
Not that Hull is too aware of her carefree attitude. It’s certainly not manufactured, it’s just the way she is. “I don’t realise that I play aggressive golf,” she mused. “I just hit it, find it and hit it.”
Vikki Laing, who had an albatross two at the 17th in a second-round 68, again had a brilliant finish – birdie, birdie, birdie. Unfortunately, the rest of the round wasn’t quite so hot for the only Scot to make the cut and she dropped back to eight over par after a 78. “I’m happy with the finish but a bit unfortunate with some shots earlier on,” said the Musselburgh 33-year-old. But the girl from the Honest Toun lived up to her title at the par-four fifth. She got a flier with her second shot and, in deep rough at the rear of the green, she took two attempts to get out and confessed to her playing partner that one was a double hit. It all added up to a disastrous eight.
The severity of the course due to the penal rough has been the main talking point all week. Davies, in her 30th championship, reckoned that it could have been downright embarrassing if the wind had blown.
“Without this weather the scores would have been horrendous,” she claimed. “You can normally miss fairways but here it was a case of having to chip out.”