Golf: Johnson lead due to old friend

Catriona Matthew chips to the green at the eighth during the Scottish Women's Open at Archerfield. Picture: Neil Hanna
Catriona Matthew chips to the green at the eighth during the Scottish Women's Open at Archerfield. Picture: Neil Hanna
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RUMBLING around in a friend’s garage to find an old putter paid dividends for Trish Johnson as the experienced English player opened up a three-shot lead after the first round of the £205,000 ­Aberdeen Asset Management Ladies Scottish Open at Archerfield Links.

On a pretty miserable day on the East Lothian coast – the afternoon starters got it worse as they had to cope with heavy showers – Kylie Walker, Carly Booth and Sally Watson all got off to ­encouraging starts with par-breaking efforts in an event that has fallen to home players for the last three years.

However, Johnson’s six-under-par 66 – she birdied four of the first five holes – was the outstanding score over the Fidra Course, especially when she’d been close to pulling out earlier in the week with a sore back.

“I was bending down to pick some washing out of the machine and it just seized,” she reported after coming in late in the day to set the pace from Frenchwoman Anne-Lise Caudal, with Walker and Booth sitting joint-third along with Nicole Broch Larsen on 70.

While treatment from osteopaths and masseurs enabled Johnson to tee it up, a decision to change putter was the biggest factor in the 21-times worldwide winner producing her “best round for quite a while”. After signing for seven birdies, Johnson, a member of Europe’s Solheim Cup-winning side at Dalmahoy in 1992, revealed: “I played well in the States recently but putted poorly so, when I was looking around a friend’s garage, I came across a two-ball putter that was mine but hadn’t been used in donkeys’ years. I decided to put it in the bag this week.

“Like a lot of those mallet putters, it’s got a lovely sweet spot and I felt I hit every putt today nicely. I holed three 25-footers, including one at the 15th, which felt like an eagle as it was playing a monster into the wind.”

Johnson has let two opportunities to win this event slip from her grasp. In 2010 – the first year it was played at the Dirleton venue – she led with three to play before finishing joint-second. Then, two years ago, she was out in front with five to play but had to settle for fourth behind Booth.

“Both were good chances and I should probably have won the first time,” admitted the Bristol woman, who was pleased to have teamed up with former Liverpool and Scotland defender Alan Hansen to win the pro-am event last year after depriving him of that honour in 2010 due to an error signing their scorecard.

With two wins under her belt this season, Walker is riding on the crest of a wave and she’ll set out today celebrating her 28th birthday with the leader in her sights. “It was really tough out there,” admitted the Glaswegian, ­having ­ignited her round by holing a 35-foot birdie putt at the first, then getting down in two putts to pick up another shot at the second.

After running up her only bogey of the day at the aforementioned 15th, Walker did well to salvage a par at the last by holing from 12 feet, having ­mis-hit her third into a bunker.

Booth, who has only made three cuts this season in 12 events, was ­four-under with seven to play before dropping shots at the 12th, where she was plugged in a bunker and had to come out ­sideways, and 13th.

“I putted pretty well today and that’s the thing that’s been holding me back,” said the 22-year-old, who reckoned she’d benefited from having the assistance of her coach, Luke Ringrose, on the bag.

Booth also admitted she’d enjoyed partnering actor Dougray Scott. “He played great and was very chilled – I wish I could be more like him on the golf course,” she added.

Playing in the same group as Walker, Watson opened with a one-under-par 71 and aims to build on that over the next two days in her bid to stay out in front in the race to be this season’s Rookie of the Year.

“That’s my goal but I’ll need to play well as there are a lot of good rookies this season,” said the 24-year-old, who enjoyed a glittering amateur career, ­including a successful spell at Stanford, the alma mater of Tiger Woods.

Unlike playing partner Booth, ­Catriona Matthew, the defending ­champion and twice winner in the past three years, failed to take advantage of holes such as the second and 11th – two ­par-5s – playing downwind.

“It was very tough out there – as ­difficult probably as the final round last year,” said the North Berwick woman. “I played okay but didn’t take advantage of some of the par-5s, which was ­disappointing.”

As an example of how difficult some of the holes were playing into the wind, Matthew needed a 3-wood at the par-3 17th, while Watson’s drive at the last only went 200 yards – 40 less than her average distance from the tee.