Women’s Open: Catriona Matthew shines at Birkdale

Anyone visiting Southport yesterday would have enjoyed a day in the baking heat. But it was anything but a stroll in the sunshine for the players in the Ricoh Women’s British Open at the town’s most famous golf course, Royal Birkdale.

Catriona Matthew lines up a putt at the ninth green yesterday. Picture: Getty
Catriona Matthew lines up a putt at the ninth green yesterday. Picture: Getty

The wind wasn’t too fierce but the brutality of the rough resulted in a number of calamities. Two unfortunates opened with a quintuple bogey nine, one sadly being Scotland’s Kylie Walker, who went on to finish with 82. Even worse, England’s Holly Aitchison had a sextuple bogey nine at the par three 12th.

As is always the way, a few managed to pass the test and Japan’s Ayako Uehara sat atop the leaderboard on four-under-par 68, one ahead of American Mo Martin.

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Only nine managed to beat par and Catriona Matthew was the best of the Scots with a very passable two over par 74. The highlights were a birdie at the ninth and another from tap-in range at the long 17th, where she came very close to making eagle.

“I’m relatively happy,” said the 2009 champion. “I’m not surprised that there are some high numbers because the rough is really brutal. I was a yard off the fairway at the first but had to take an unplayable. But I guessed that if I was finding it tough then everyone was finding it the same.”

Matthew’s grounding at North Berwick certainly means she shouldn’t be put off by having to play in a bit of a breeze and a similar background was one of the keys to Uehara’s success.

“I grew up in Okinawa and every time you play there it is windy,” said the pocket-sized leader. “So I was very happy with the conditions today. The other thing was my putting. It was so good.

“This is definitely my best round of the year. I’ve really been struggling on the greens but today I holed a lot of 15-foot range putts for birdies.”

Martin is also a little thing. She uses the long putter and leads the LPGA Tour statistics in driving accuracy – an essential round the famous Open Championship links.

England’s Holly Clyburn was the best of the Brits on one under par 71, while the favourites mostly remained in contention. World No 1 Stacy Lewis, who is hoping to retain the title she won at St Andrews last year, was content with her one-under-par 71, even more so considering she started bogey, par, bogey.

“Anything under par is a great score today,” she asserted. “After the start I knew I had to stay patient. The conditions were pretty horrible so I was pleased to go on and make a few birdies.”

Michelle Wie, the US Women’s Open Champion, is one of the longest hitters on Tour and she struggled to find fairways and had to make do with a 75, while 19-year-old Lexi Thompson, the Kraft Nabisco Champion, posted a fine 72.

New Zealand’s Lydia Ko, at 17 the youngest in the field, is the world No 2. The top amateur in the Championship for the past two years, the teenager is not one to get flustered and, although she took six down the last, she still wound up with a 72.

“It was frustrating to finish with a bogey but a par round is pretty good,” said the impressively composed youngster. “I managed to hit the fairway at the opening hole for the first time this week and I was two under after six, which was a very positive start. Overall, it was pretty consistent.”

Matthew apart, the other Scots need very decent scores to make the cut. Vikki Laing blemished her 78 with an eight – three off the tee – at the par four 15th, and Sally Watson, on her 23rd birthday, had an 80. Seven years ago, she made the cut as a 16-year-old at St Andrews.