Despite both dropping down their respective leaderboards on the final day, Catriona Matthew and Stephen Gallacher still emerged from the Australian Women’s Open and Maybank Championship with good reason to feel positive about the season ahead.
Having shared the halfway lead in her event at The Grange in Adelaide, Matthew will no doubt be feeling a sense of mild disappointment that she ended up joint-ninth after closing rounds of 73 and 72 for a seven-under-par 281.
Two off the pace heading into the final round, the 46-year-old wasn’t alone in soon finding that the title waa going to end up in the hands of Haru Nomura as the Japanese player blew the rest of the field away with a closing 65 to win by three shots from world No 1 and defending champion Lydia Ko.
Nonetheless, it was a commendable effort from Matthew, one that clocked up her 102nd career top-10 finish and built on a solid start to her 22nd season in the professional ranks, having been 21st in the Bahamas then 40th in Florida in two LPGA Tour events before heading to Australia.
This effort earned Matthew $24,836, taking her season’s earnings to $46,202 and her career prize haul to $9,166,890. Showing no signs whatsoever of slowing up, breaking through the $10 million barrier is surely one of Matthew’s targets in the twilight of her career.
Seeing her getting in the title mix and hearing Ko, during a stint in the commentary box on Saturday, talk about the “respect” she has for the Scot, the lifetime achievement award Matthew is set to receive in Edinburgh next month is appropriate and long overdue.
Nomura, a 23-year-old who is based in Honolulu, held off Ko by holing putt after putt in the final round.”The putter ...wow ... unbelievable!” was the winner’s perfect summing up of what had allowed her to come out on top for the first time outside of Japan.
Ko was philosophical about her near-miss. She gave herself a chance when she holed a birdie putt at the 17th, but in the following group Nomura immediately matched her feat, which was the story of the day. “When another player does it, it’s really out of my hands,” said Ko.
Falkirk-based American Beth Allen closed with a 68 to finish joint-fourth, earning her $46,902, while Kylie Walker picked up $14,522 for a share of 20th after her closing 73 that followed a 71 on Saturday. “I feel I could’ve scored better over the weekend but it’s a good improvement so I’m happy with a top 20 in the end,” said Walker. “It was a big tournament with a strong field, so I have a lot of positives to take from the event.”
That sentiment was shared by Gallacher after he finished joint-15th behind Australian Marcus Fraser in Malaysia. The Scot’s 66 on Saturday was his best round for five months and this was only his third top-20 finish in just over a year.
“It was good to be in the mix again,” admitted Gallacher, who raised his hopes of landing a fourth European Tour title when he birdied the second and third in the final round at Royal Selangor only to lose his spark thereafter as he signed for a closing 73 and a seven-under-par 277 total.
Referring to the fact he’d missed the cut in his three previous starts in 2016, the 41-year-old added: “This week was a real confidence-booster. I had no three-putts during the week and showed improvement in lots of other stats.”
Helped by a short-game masterclass, Fraser carded a closing 68 to claim a third European Tour title by two shots from overnight leader Soomin Lee (73) and Miguel Tabuena (68).
Fraser had a seven-year gap between his first win at the 2003 BMW Russian Open and his second at the Ballantine’s Championship, and returns to the winners’ enclosure five years and 302 days after that victory in South Korea.
“It feels unbelievable,” he said. “I’ve had some serious injuries and I’ve had my fair share of chances to win and completely stuffed them up. That’s always at the back of your mind but luckily enough it fell my way today.”