Let’s not beat about the bush. Gullane was a bit of a pussycat when the men’s Scottish Open produced a raft of low scores a fortnight ago, notably Brandon Stone’s closing 60 to claim that title. The wind barely blew over four days and the East Lothian links was virtually defenceless.
It’s no pussycat, though, in a wind that is constantly between 20-30mph and gusting up to 30mph at the top of the hill. Just ask the players who had to contend with that challenge in the third round of the $1.5 million Aberdeen Standard Investments Ladies Scottish Open.
In the afternoon in particular, it became a brutal test. The forecast had been for heavy rain and there was a loud clap of thunder nearby as the final groups were heading out. The sky soon brightened, though, but, at the same time, that wind really whipped up. As flags flapped and tents rattled, it turned into a battle of attrition.
Thailand’s Ariya Jutanugarn, pictured, was one of the few players who seemed to relish the dramatic change in conditions. “I didn’t like links golf much before today, but I thought, ‘here is the real Scottish Open’,” she said after chipping in for an eagle at the 16th en route to earning a share of the lead with Korea’s Amy Yang.
Even the more experienced players in the field found it extremely testing. “It was a very tough day,” admitted seven-time major champion Karrie Webb from Australia. “The wind switched to the complete opposite direction someplace on the back nine and also picked up. We were playing most of the holes into the wind. It was quite a challenge.” Playing in the same group, English player Charley Hull concurred. “The wind is crazy,” she said. “The 16th green is just unplayable. I hit my putt to about three to five feet and it rolled down to about 20 feet, costing me a bogey. It is just playing ridiculously.”
Helped by the fact it was playing almost straight downwind at the time, Spaniard Carlota Ciganda was just short with her drive at the 386-yard par-4 18th. “Yesterday I hit one 356 yards at the 11th, but this one was more like 360-370 yard,” she reported. Taking advantage of that mighty blow, the 28-year-old from Pamplona closed with a birdie for a 68. On five-under, she’s in the mix heading into the final circuit.
Jutanugarn, who will become world No 1 if she wins here, and Yang both signed for 73s to sit on eight-under, a shot ahead of Australian Minjee Lee. Two of Yang’s compatriots, So Yeon Ryu and Haeji Kang, are next on six-under, followed by Ciganda. American Tiffany Joh, who started the day three clear of the field, capitulated in the wind as she slumped to an 80 to sit joint-seventh on four-under.
“I got really lucky,” said Jutanugarn, the US Women’s Open champion, of her eagle, having chipped in from 40 yards at the 16th. She’s not thinking about that opportunity to topple Inbee Park as the No 1 player in the women’s game. “I had so much fun today,” she said of those conditions. But does she want more of the same in the final round? “Maybe not,” she added.
Lee, a 22-year-old from Perth who beat Melrose-born Karis Davidson into second place when winning the Oates Victorian Open earlier in the year, picked up three shots early on before trying to limit the damage on the back nine. “It was really hard out there,” she said. “The wind was gusting like crazy so I’m happy with today. The first couple of day we were lucky with the wind, but now the real wind has come and this is true links golf.”
Ciganda, a former Ladies British Amateur champion, was four-under for the day and bogey-free through 14 holes. She then had two three-putts back-to-back before finishing on that high. “I was pretty happy with three-under today,” she admitted afterwards. “I like playing in tough conditions. When we come to the UK, I’m expecting tough conditions and wind and rain. The first two day it was really nice weather. It was lovely, but I like these conditions better. I love playing here with the tough conditions. It really is different.”
Ciganda is chasing a seventh professional victory but first since prevailing in the Lorena Ochoa Invitational in November 2016. “I love links golf and I love playing in Scotland, the home of golf, so I would love to win here, especially before next week (the Ricoh Women’s British Open at Royal Lytham),” said the three-time Ryder Cup player.
As the Red Arrows appeared in the sky close by to perform a display at the East Fortune Airshow, overnight leader Joh quickly saw her hopes of continuing to fly high dashed. The 31-year-old from San Diego birdied the par-5 second by getting down in two putts from long distance to stretch her lead to four shots only to see that disappear in no time. She dropped seven shots in six holes from the fourth, the confidence she’d built up over the first two days being drained in the process. The spillage continued with a double-bogey 6 at the 13th. It was a day to forget.
Sarah Kemp, a 32-year-old Australian, made the biggest jump up the leaderboard on the back of her best-of-the-day 67. That was illuminated by an eagle-3 at the 11th, where she hit a hybrid to 15 feet. Kelsey MacDonald and Kylie Henry, the two Scots left standing, both shot level-par 71s to sit level-par and one-over respectively.