Golf: Watson is beginning to make her mark

IT IS way too early to even think this particular golfing baton is about to be handed over.

Sally Watson wants to be in the thick of the action when the Curtis Cup tees off. Picture: SNS

Catriona Matthew, after all, is still comfortably Scotland’s No.1 woman golfer, sitting 20th in the world and nearly 100 spots above her nearest compatriot, Kylie Walker.

At 45, however, the North Berwick woman’s career is starting to edge towards its twilight phase, meaning the door will begin to edge open to challengers for the mantle she’s held for nearly two decades.

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Having won twice this season on the Ladies European Tour, Walker has emerged as the most likely candidate to become that standard-bearer, especially since Carly Booth’s career has stalled on the back of her own brace of victories two years ago.

It will be just as interesting, however, to see how Sally Watson’s career pans out over the next few years, starting today when the 24-year-old from Elie heads the home challenge heading into the final round of the Aberdeen Asset Management Ladies Scottish Open at Archerfield Links.

A rookie on the Tour this season, having only graduated from Stanford in California last year, Watson, pictured, has her work cut out to claim a maiden victory, given that, although tied for second in the £205,000 event, the former Scottish and British Girls’ champion has six shots to make up on the leader, English veteran Trish Johnson.

If it’s not this time, though, it surely won’t be long before Watson, third in Slovakia earlier in the season, makes that breakthrough, having looked as though she had both the game and temperament from an early age to enjoy a successful career in the paid ranks.

“This season is a learning experience, but, at the same time, it would be nice to get into that winners’ circle by the end of the year,” admitted Watson, after signing for a second successive one-under-par 71 on another windy day on the Fidra Links, to leapfrog both Walker and Booth as their title hopes were dented by rounds of 77 and 79 respectively.

Celebrating her 28th birthday, Walker had one of those rounds when “little went right”, something that seemed catching among the home contingent. Booth, the 2012 winner, shared that sentiment and so, too, did Matthew as she slipped 14 shots behind Johnson after a 77 bereft of birdies.

“It was windy out there,” noted the defending champion and two-times winner at this venue of westerly gusts of up to 30mph. “But I seemed to make it a little more difficult than it should have been by playing very poorly. I obviously now need to go very low tomorrow.”

In Johnson’s eyes, beating par for a third time, having followed her splendid opening 66 with a “solid” 70, will make her hard to catch and, in truth, few would begrudge the Bristol woman victory today after twice letting this title slip from her grasp in its previous four stagings at the same venue.

She was a member of winning Solheim Cup teams at both Dalmahoy (1992) and Loch Lomond (2000) and also triumphed over 36 holes on the Paul Lawrie Ladies Tartan Tour at Fairmont St Andrews earlier this year. “But it would be nice to claim my first [Tour] victory on Scottish soil,” admitted Johnson after an effort that included a 40-foot birdie putt dropping at the seventh.

If successful, Johnson will become the oldest winner in Tour history, beating compatriot Laura Davies, who was 47 when she lifted the Indian Open title in 2010.

Alongside Watson on two-under is Frenchwoman Gwladys Nocera, the 2008 winner at The Carrick, whose three-under 69 was the day’s joint best.