Matthew opens Evian title assault

Suzann Pettersen of Norway tees off at the 16th during the first round of the Evian Championship. Picture: Getty
Suzann Pettersen of Norway tees off at the 16th during the first round of the Evian Championship. Picture: Getty
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After the soggy start to the newest major on the women’s calendar, the sun finally shone on the Evian Championship in France yesterday and Catriona Matthew, the only Scot in the field, opened her assault with a 73.

But following Thursday’s wash-out of the first round and with more bad weather forecast for the weekend, the fifth and final major of the women’s season has been reduced to 54 holes.

The top 70 players and ties will make the cut and with heavy rain forecast for late Saturday through Sunday there is still the chance that even a three round event will extend into Monday.

But the sun shone yesterday and Se Ri Pak turned back the clock with a six birdie 66 to finish one behind Japan’s Mika Miyazato and sharing second place with Suzann Pettersen and Germany’s Sandra Gal, who was bitterly disappointed not to be part of Europe’s great win in Denver last month.

Lydia Ko, the bespectacled 16-year-old New Zealand amateur, has already won four professional events, including a successful defence of the Canadian Open last month. Her ability to mix it with the best shone out in 68.

Pak was the player who led the South Korean revolution in the women’s game. A lone standard bearer when she joined the LPGA Tour in 1988, she inspired hundreds of girls to follow in her footsteps. Now South Koreans flood the top of the game with Inbee Park the current world No.1.

Winner of two majors – the LPGA Championship and US Women’s Open – in a sensational rookie season, Pak added another three, including the 2001 Women’s British Open.

The triumph 12 years ago at Sunningdale was when the British Open was first upgraded to major status and she is hoping the same will happen here.

“I’m so proud and happy watching the young South Koreans and they give me lots of energy,” she said. “And I’m still very motivated. But there is far less pressure and it’s much more enjoyable than when I first joined the Tour.”

Matthew was in a group alongside two of the loftiest players of recent times in Park and Taiwan’s former world No.1 Yani Tseng, who memorably captured the 2010 Ricoh Women’s British Open Champion at Carnoustie. The Scot was the best of the trio.

Tseng has gone off the boil the past two seasons and she had to settle for a 75, while Park, winner of the first three majors this year, had a 74 that included a penalty shot for inadvertently moving the ball with her putter when her ball was inches from the hole at the short second.

She ran up a double-bogey five and her chances of a history-making fourth major in one year – and a second successive victory here in Evian – took a tumble. But the 25-year-old with the lovely slow tempo and deadly putting stroke certainly can’t be ruled out just yet.

Matthew is one of the Evian veterans, but she admits she has never found her best form on the picturesque course. Yesterday she summed up her round as “OK. I played quite well but didn’t really hit it close enough to the hole and the greens are so tricky.”

Matthew has had a standout season, finishing in the top 15 in all four majors, winning the Aberdeen Asset Management Ladies’ Scottish Open and playing a key role in the Solheim Cup triumph.

Gal, who played alongside Matthew in the fourballs at the 2011 Solheim Cup victory in Ireland, admits that missing out on Colorado last month was “very disappointing.” But the fact that Europe’s defence is in her homeland in 2015 is a huge motivator.

“Hosting the Solheim Cup is going to be so good for German golf and will inspire so many kids,” she said. “Being on that team is a must.”

Pettersen is seeking back-to-back wins. Two weeks ago she won the LPGA Safeway Classic and should really have joined MIyazato on 65. In one of the final groups, she missed a three foot putt for par at the last and commented: ”I think the greens will be better in the mornings.”