Suzann Pettersen and Lydia Ko lead at Scottish Open

AS FIRST days go for a golf tournament at a new venue, this was as good as it gets. Taking advantage of free admission, an estimated 3,000 spectators poured on to Dundonald Links for the opening round of the Aberdeen Asset Management Ladies Scottish Open. To their delight, the cream duly rose to the top on the Ayrshire coast.

Norways Suzann Pettersen, the world No 7, blasts a drive during her four-under-par opening round of 68. Picture: Paul Severn

Star attraction Lydia Ko, the world No 2, finished with a flourish, picking up two birdies in her last three holes on the Kyle Phillips-designed layout for a four-under-par 68. That was matched by Norway’s Suzann Pettersen, the game’s seventh-ranked player, as the duo set the pace in the 54-hole event.

In much easier conditions than the previous day – it actually felt like summer at times – Ko produced a polished bogey-free effort, though the 18-year-old Kiwi was honest enough to admit that the golfing Gods had smiled on her. “I found some funky lies that I got lucky with a couple of times,” she said. “At the 18th, for instance, my right foot was a lot higher than the left but that’s what happens on a course like this where there is a lot of undulations.”

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Starting at the tenth, Ko picked up her only shot going out at the 13th, added a second birdie at the fourth before jumping to the top of the leaderboard with back-to-back gains at the seventh and eighth. “I hit an 8-iron 15 feet for the first of those birdies then a pitching wedge to a foot for the second one,” she said. It could have been a hat-trick if a nine-foot downhill putt at the ninth hadn’t slipped past the side of the hole.

“We got really lucky with the weather today as the wind wasn’t nearly as strong as it was on Thursday,” added Ko, who appears to have wasted little time finding a low ball flight that will also serve her well in next week’s Ricoh Women’s British Open at Turnberry. “I don’t normally hit it too high anyway, but I’ve been working the last couple of days to hit it a bit lower so that the wind doesn’t affect it if it does get strong,” she confirmed.

Pettersen was also pleased with her opening salvo, which contained six birdies – four in the first five holes – and two 
bogeys. “I played really good and it’s a very good start,” she said. One of her dropped shots came at the 16th. “I got screwed by a bunker there,” added Pettersen. “My second shot ended up in an awkward spot. I didn’t get out the first time and then did well to get up and down with the 
second attempt.”

Listening to her rave about the course earlier in the week, it was no surprise to see the Solheim Cup star make such an encouraging start. “It also helps when you are playing well and my game is really good at the moment,” admitted Pettersen. “I’m really enjoying this course and you have to keep your 
concentration all the time, even with straightforward wedges.”

Nestled in behind the two leaders is Celine Herbin, a 32-year-old Frenchwoman who lives in Santander and is based at the golf club in the Spanish city made famous by Seve Ballesteros. “This is the first time I’ve played in the Scottish Open,” said Herbin after signing for five birdies and two bogeys on the opposite side of the draw to Ko and Pettersen. “The last time I played on a links course was a long time ago, probably at Troon in a qualifier for the British Open when I was an amateur. I really enjoy the challenge on a links and I was pretty happy with my game today.”

Playing in the same group, Catriona Matthew and Cheyenne Woods shot matching 74s to leave them playing catch-up over the final two rounds. “I didn’t play too badly,” reported Matthew, the 2011 and 2013 winner, “but went through the back of a couple of greens and also hit a bad drive at my last that led to a bogey.

“I didn’t take some of the chances I had either. I had a couple of putts that lipped out but that wasn’t down to the greens as they are in really good condition. It’s no surprise, really, to see Lydia and Suzann up at the top of the leaderboard already, but I’ll go out tomorrow and hope that I can get myself back into it by cutting out the mistakes and also taking my chances.”

Woods, Tiger’s niece, came off the course whistling. “I always have a song in my head to keep myself loose,” she said with a smile. She’d also found similar lies to Ko but appeared to have been punished more. “I found a really heavy lie after pulling my drive way left and could only chip out,” said the 24-year-old of a double-bogey there. “It’s a tough course, but hopefully I can come out tomorrow and improve on this score,” she added.

English teenager Charley Hull certainly needs to do that after a 76 left her on the projected cut mark. Hull hit a driver off the deck from the tee at the second – her 11th – but made a hash of it with an effort that barely carried 100 yards.