Ladies Open: Catriona Matthew moving in for kill

Catriona Matthew. Picture: Neil Hanna
Catriona Matthew. Picture: Neil Hanna
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BASED purely on body language or facial expressions, it would be impossible to tell if Catriona Matthew was either overjoyed at winning the Lottery or worried about leaving the gas cooker on at home.

“She’s Zen-like, a bit similar to Retief Goosen,” said Martin Gilbert, the chief executive of Aberdeen Asset Management and Matthew’s pro-am partner in the Ladies Scottish Open at Archerfield Links.

He was speaking after watching Matthew, the world No.10 and sole player from Europe’s recent first Solheim Cup success on US soil in action on the Fidra Links, close in on a second win in her home event in three years in a similar way to a silent assassin preparing for the kill.

Four ahead with a round to go when coasting to a ten-shot triumph at the same East Lothian venue two years ago, the 44-year-old from nearby North Berwick has a three-stroke cushion at the same stage this time around after moving to six-under-par.

It follows a five-under 67 in the second round, which required a 5:30am alarm call in the Matthew household as the local heroine found herself in the first group out on the tenth tee.

“It was freezing out there at the start,” reported Matthew’s husband and caddie, Graeme. The way the tournament’s star attraction played her opening hole did nothing to warm either of them up.

“I hacked my way up the tenth,” said Matthew of the bogey that went down on the card there, before soon finding her stride in front of a decent-sized gallery, though nothing nearly as big as it should be considering the Scot is one of the leading players in world golf and entry here is free.

She got up and down from a greenside bunker to birdie the long 11th, showed great imagination to “bump” her second at the 16th to four feet then picked up her third shot of the day with a chip and putt at the 18th.

A 50-yard chip to five feet at the second – another par-5 – set up another birdie before putts of six feet, 20 feet and 25 feet were all dispatched into the hole at the third, fifth and seventh respectively.

Missing the green at the par-3 eighth led to a “silly bogey” but a deft touch from the hump just off the back of the green at the ninth avoided another shot being spilled at her closing hole. “I played well again and holed a few more putts today,” said Matthew of an admirable effort in a blustery wind, one that blew Trish Johnson’s title bid off course as the experienced English player, a challenger here twice in the last three years, tumbled from one off the overnight lead to 11 behind after an 80.

Johnson’s compatriot, Liz Young, and another of those lying joint-second overnight, Anne-Lise Caudal from France, lead the chasing pack after signing for 68 and 72 respectively, but it is probably going to take a rare off day from Matthew to deny her an 11th career victory.

“I’m in a good position,” she acknowledged, before playing down her chances of landing this particular title by another yawning margin. “That was a fantastic achievement,” she said of her 2011 effort. “But, in a career, that kind of win is almost a one-off.”

With only seven players under par, some of Matthew’s younger and less experienced compatriots are also giving a good account of themselves. Pamela Pretswell, a rookie on the Ladies’ European Tour this season, recovered from a faltering first-round finish with a 71 to lie joint-tenth on one-over, one ahead of defending champion Carly Booth (73) and Kelsey MacDonald (69).

In the team event, Andy Nicol’s premature exit – the former Scotland rugby captain had led after an opening 59 but could only commit to playing two rounds – opened the door for another sporting legend, Alan Hansen, to move into a share of top spot on 16-under.