Matthew revels in her home comforts

IF there was any pressure on Catriona Matthew to justify her billing as the clear favourite for the Aberdeen Ladies Scottish Open title, there was not a hint of it in yesterday’s final round at Archerfield. Leading by four strokes when she set off, the popular Scot, an honorary member of the East Lothian venue, was eight ahead at the turn, and a faintly embarrassing ten clear when this procession drew to its inevitable conclusion.

Matthew, who hails from nearby North Berwick, has won eight tournaments in her 16-year professional career, but none has been as straightforward as this. Her six-under-par 66, following a course-record 65 on Friday and a 70 the day before, included seven birdies, six of them between the second and the eighth on an outward nine that required just 31 blows. That gave her a 15-under-par total, which second-placed Hannah Jun never had a sniff of matching.

Matthew admitted that her first win on Scottish soil since the 1998 McDonald’s WPGA Championship at Gleneagles was a surreal experience, not always as comfortable as it appeared. “It was kind of strange,” she said. “It was difficult to have quite such a big lead. I played my front nine really well and when I saw I had an eight-shot lead, it just puts more pressure on. You think ‘God, imagine if I blow this’.”

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There was never any prospect of that. Matthew is enjoying quite a resurgence thanks to a series of technical changes made with her coach, Kevin Craggs, in the last couple of years.

With a slower backswing, she is controlling the ball better than ever, and putting with new assurance. Her 15-footer for birdie on the par-5 last rounded off a successful few weeks, having finished fifth at the Ricoh Women’s British Open and sixth in the Irish Open.

Matthew deserves credit not just for playing so well, but for being here at all. A full-timer on America’s LPGA Tour, she has earned £211,770 there this season, and might have been excused for trying to boost that total in this week’s Safeway Classic. Some $1.5 million (£911,000) was up for grabs at Pumpkin Ridge, but the Scot, an ambassador for Aberdeen Asset Management, plumped instead for a £29,000 winner’s cheque in her homeland. “Portland hasn’t been one of my favourite courses so I’m not too upset about missing it,” she said. “I’ve missed the cut there both times. It was a good decision.”

Archerfield, a relatively new course next door to Gullane, has been a flawless host, with perfect facilities and weather to match, but like most events on the Ladies European Tour, this has been a modest spectacle. When you drove through the entrance gates, the security guard asked if you were here to play golf. One sign after another purported to direct “tournament traffic”, which was a tad hopeful, although a few hundred eventually gathered to see Matthew down the last.

The format was such that she also had a couple of amateurs to play with, a bizarre distraction on the final day of a professional tournament, but Matthew enjoyed every minute of it.

This is effectively her home course, where she practises and holds the odd golf clinic. In the lobby of the clubhouse, one of her golf bags stands in a glass cabinet.

Her father, Michael, was among the familiar faces in the crowd. “There was added pressure playing at home, which makes winning extra special,” said Matthew. “It was great to see a lot of people out there. I recognised a lot of faces. I don’t often get a chance to play so close to home. I haven’t won that many times so every one is really good.”

There were four other Scots in the top 20. Kylie Walker tied for fifth after a 69, Mhairi McKay for ninth after a 70. Vikki Laing and Carly Booth carded 72s to finish 16th and 19th respectively.

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But Matthew is still the player to beat. Asked if such a comprehensive win in Europe was as satisfying as topping a stronger field in the US, she replied: “Oh definitely, yeah. It doesn’t matter where you are in the world, it’s difficult to win a golf tournament.” Could have fooled us.