TURNBERRY’S Ailsa course bared its teeth yesterday, but Norway’s Suzann Pettersen tamed the beast better than most and claimed the halfway lead in the Ricoh Women’s British Open.
With strong winds gusting across the course and heavy rain frequently adding to the misery, the world’s best female golfers were presented with a rigorous test of patience and skill, and many succumbed.
Butch Harmon makes you believe. Mentally it’s never been easier for meSuzann Pettersen
Two players suffered the mortification of marking a ten on the card while American Mo Martin, last year’s champion, followed a first-round 70 with a miserable 80. The likeable American missed the cut.
But Pettersen, a 33-year-old who finished in the top 25 when the Championship was first played over Turnberry 13 years ago, succeeded in putting together an impressive round of 69, four birdies and just one bogey.
On seven-under-par 137 she was two ahead of the field – those in closes contention including the 18-year-old world No 2 from New Zealand, Lydia Ko.
The European Tour Rookie of the Year in 2001, Pettersen has enjoyed a terrific career on both sides of the Atlantic and has already bagged two majors, the 2007 LPGA Championship and the 2013 Evian Championship.
Last week she played in the Aberdeen Asset Management Ladies’ Scottish Open at nearby Dundonald, and, like Ko, she also felt the decision to play back-to-back weeks in Ayrshire had been a real positive. “It has helped me adjust to links golf,” she said.
A catalogue of injuries have been an irritation but, since switching from David Leadbetter to another high-profile coach in Butch Harmon, she reckons her best days still lie ahead. She has been working with Tiger Woods’ former mentor for just under a year and she says he has helped simplify her swing.
“He makes you believe,” she said of the Las Vegas-based coach, who is also well-known as a Sky TV contributor. “Mentally it’s never been easier for me. I don’t feel like the thoughts and the swing change from one day to another.
“I had thought it would be [only] to play through to the Olympics [in Rio next year] but now I have lots of new goals. I want to be the best that I can be.”
Playing her best golf in yesterday’s conditions was far from easy. “It was tough out there,” she said. “But I felt I was 100 per cent in control of the ball. This ranks pretty high as a round of golf. The ball was not flying anywhere and it was very cold. It was tough to putt as well so easy pars were nice.”
Catriona Matthew was the best of the Scots on 148 after a 77, while Carly Booth was the only other of the seven Scots starters to make the cut. A qualifier, she also shot 77 and survived on the final five-over-par mark.
Matthew played with Pettersen and couldn’t have been more impressed by her day’s companion. “She played absolutely beautifully,” said the 2009 champion from North Berwick. “She was in total control and holed a lot of good putts for par.”
Matthew’s round started horribly with a double-bogey six and her only birdie in the brutal day was a four at the long 17th. But she dropped a shot at the 18th. When she completed her round mid-morning the 45-year-old was hoping that the weather wouldn’t improve.
In fact, it became worse. By the time the late starters finished up it was chucking it down and it was taking six hours to complete the rounds. A ghastly day for one and all.
Ko, who opened with a six-under-par round, was another who was mightily impressed by Pettersen’s effort. “Today was like playing a different course,” said the teenager.
“I knew I wasn’t going to shoot 66 again and it was going to be a day for grinding it out. We were trying to hide behind the signs for shelter. Suzann must have played great.”
World No 1 Inbee Park wasn’t too delighted with a 73, but the South Korean is still well in the hunt on two under par, three ahead of the 2013 champion from St Andrews, Stacy Lewis.
Michelle Wie was heading for a missed cut but she didn’t make it past the 13th hole. At ten over par for the round and 14 over for the championship, last year’s US Women’s Open Champion retired with an ankle injury.
The two unfortunates who notched up tens were the Spanish Solheim Cup player, Beatriz Recari, and Japan’s Yumiko Yoshida. Out in the first group, Recari had two lost balls off the tee at the long 14th, while Yoshida had five in a bunker at the par-four fifth.