She came down from Gullane Hill to find herself on top of the world. Ariya Jutanugarn, a 22-year-old from Thailand, is the highest-ranked player in women’s professional golf after winning the $1.6 million Aberdeen Standard Investments Ladies Scottish Open on the East Lothian coast.
It is the second time Jutanugarn has been world No 1, holding the spot for only a fornight in June 2017. That mantle changes hands a lot more than in the men’s game, but the Bangkok woman is going to be there or thereabouts in the foreseeable future. This was her 11th title triumph as a professional and third this year. It didn’t seem likely when she talked at the halfway stage about not being a fan of links golf, but, when you are a class act like Jutanugarn, you can find a way of winning on any type of course.
On a dreich last day – the final few groups played most of their rounds in the rain – Jutanugarn held off a spirited challenge from Australian Minjee Lee, one of her playing partners, to give herself the perfect boost heading into the Richoh Women’s British Open at Royal Lytham. Jutanugarn became Thailand’s first major winner, male of female, when she won that event in 2016 at Woburn. She added the US Women’s Open at Shoal Creek in Alabama earlier this year and now heads to Lancashire as the player to beat.
Jutanugarn, who started the day sharing the lead with Korea’s Amy Yang, closed with a 66 for a 13-under-par 271 total. She was destined for victory, really, after reeling off three birdies in a row from the seventh. That said, a play-off seemed likely when Lee hit a majestic approach to around four feet at the last. In fact, there was even a possibility that the 22-year-old might steal the title at the death. But, after Jutanugarn made amends for pulling her tee shot with an iron into the left rough with a great chip to save par, Lee was unable to convert for a birdie.
“It means a lot to me,” said Jutanugarn of tasting victory on Scottish soil, one that earned her $225,000. “Before this week, I never thought I could win on a links course but I told my caddie, ‘I want to win one time in my life on a links – that would be enough’. I feel lucky to have done that this week, especially after I thought I was going to be in a play-off.” Looking ahead to that next assignment, she added: “I still feel some things can improve, including my short game, and I hope to bring my A game next week.”
Two Koreans, Jin Young Ko and Haeji Kang, shared third on eight under, a shot ahead of Yang and Spaniard Carlota Ciganda. Bronte Law was the top British player in joint 17th after a closing 68, with Kelsey MacDonald claiming the honour of top Scot, albeit in joint 59th.
Jutanugarn was already exempt for Lytham, meaning the spot up for grabs to the winner wasn’t actually required on this occasion. It was mission accomplished, though, on that front, for South African Lee-Anne Pace, American Cheyenne Woods and Spaniard Nuria Iturrios as they secured the three berths available to the leading non-exempt LET players.
Pace is heading to Lancashire on a high after being there or thereabouts all week in East Lothian and finishing joint eight while it was somewhat of a back-door entry into the fourth women’s major of the season for Woods, Tiger’s niece, and Iturrious as they ended up joint 35th on level-par. For both, it meant avoiding an 18-hole qualifier at St Annes Old Links on Monday. “It’s really nice,” said Woods of earning her third appearance in the event. “This has been quite a long stretch and it’s kind of a nice bonus to play well this week and just automatically get into next and have another opportunity. I think these conditions will be pretty similar maybe to next week. It is always nice just to have a good four rounds in and a good tournament, so I’ll take that momentum into next week.”
MacDonald, left, had been hoping to secure one of those berths but came up short after signing off with a 74 to finish joint 59th on three over. “I didn’t play particularly great – my short game was poor and that’s what let me down,” said the 27-year-old from Nairn. “My short game was class the first three days, so I don’t know if I was a little anxious.”
Kylie Henry, who had already secured her spot in the Lytham line-up along with Catriona Matthew, finished two shots behind MacDonald after a 75.