It was Kingsbarns, not Kapalua. Yet Michelle Wie felt as though she was back home in Hawaii. The stunning seaside holes on this gem of a course on the Fife coast helped create that impression. As did the gorgeous morning weather the 27-year-old took full advantage of to light up the opening day of the £2.5 million Ricoh Women’s British Open with a course-record eight-under-par 64.
“I had a lot of fun today,” admitted Wie, smiling, after recovering from an early bogey caused by a “skulled” wedge at the par-5 second to card nine birdies, six of which came in the last eight holes as she stormed home in 30 to lead by a shot from Korean In-Kyung Kim at the end of a day interspersed with two delays caused by rain of biblical proportions.
Before the first disruption of just under an hour in the middle of the afternoon, Laura Davies had Wie in her sights after moving menacingly to six-under after 14 holes on her 37th consecutive appearance in the event, but three dropped shots in two holes immediately after the resumption left her having to settle for a 68.
World No 2 Lexi Thompson birdied the last to beat that effort by one, as did Mel Reid and Jodi Ewart Shadoff, while two more English players, Charley Hull and Georgia Hall, also got off to good starts with 68s, but the day belonged to Wie, the one-time child superstar who seems to have been around forever yet has never really fulfilled her potential.
Admittedly, a spate of injuries haven’t helped, but, for all the hype that has surrounded her from the moment she qualified for the US Amateur when she was just 10, the fact Wie’s sole major success so far came in the 2014 US Women’s Open and she has just four LPGA titles in total to her name – Lydia Ko has 14 by comparison – seems something of an under-achievement.
Having missed the cut in this event twice in the last three years and withdrawn in between, Wie was under the radar coming into this week. But, helped by some perfect preparation in last week’s Scottish Open at Dundonald, she led the way on a day when the world’s best players found the Kyle Phillips-designed course scoreable without really bringing it to its knees. “It’s definitely up there, for sure,” replied Wie, who was forced to withdraw in the second round of last month’s US Women’s Open due to neck spasms, to being asked where her effort ranked. “The fact it’s a course record is a huge honour for me, especially at a place like Kingsbarns, which is definitely one of the most scenic courses I’ve ever played. You get lost in the views out there and it almost feels like playing back home in Hawaii.”
She probably wished she’d been back in Honolulu after sending her third shot skittering through the back of the green at the second, but that actually stung her into action. “It was definitely a rocky start, but I think that got me a little pissed,” admitted the world No 35, who used both her 9-wood and an 11-wood to dazzling effect thereafter. “I was angry after that, so I nuked a drive on the next hole and that got me into a good position.”
Kim, a 29-year-old who has won twice on the LPGA in the past two months, signed for eight birdies to sit a shot ahead of American Lindy Duncan, with Reid, Thompson, Ewart Shadoff, Korea’s Chella Choi and Dutch player Anne Van Dam all a stroke further back. “I think playing the Scottish Open really helped me to prepare for this week because we had so much wind over there,” admitted Kim after her effort, with Reid also having been at Dundonald Links to prepare for the fourth women’s major of the season.
Reid is coached by Kevin Craggs and heaped praise on him after carding seven birdies, including four around the turn. “He’s saved my career, he really has,” said the 29-year-old of Craggs, who is based at Kingsfield Golf Centre on the outskirts of Linlithgow. “I’ve said to him I want him out on the LPGA a bit more with me. I feel he’s a performance coach, I feel he’s a Tour coach, and I feel that doing what he’s doing right now, he’s not getting the most out of his potential.”
On a day when Catriona Matthew struggled to a 76, Pamela Pretswell, Heather MacRae and Sally Watson shared the honour of being the top Scots with matching level-par 72s. Pretswell, who gets married in a fortnight’s time, had both weather delays to contend with. “Yesterday,” she replied, jokingly, to being asked when she’d teed off at the end of a round that took six-and-a-half hours to complete.
MacRae, a qualifier along with Watson, had mixed feelings about her effort. “I would have taken that at the start but maybe not after nine holes, when I was three-under,” said the Dunblane woman, who is based these days in Portugal. “I started really well before having a little blip at the 11th (a double-bogey 7).”