With stiff winds and no doubt a fair bit of rain sure to provide a severe examination at this week's Ricoh Women's British Open at Royal Lytham & St. Annes Golf Club on England's north-west coast, the winner will probably be a strong links golfer.
Well-fancied Paula Creamer has the advantage of a British coach fully versed in the vagaries of unpredictable bounces and awkward stances. The world No. 4 desperately wants a major breakthrough and will be hoping Dave Whelan's help will prove decisive at the July 30-Aug. 2 event.
Sherri Steinhauer is a solid bet on this course, having notched up the first of her two British Open triumphs at Royal Lytham and St Anne's back in 1998. The wind blew particularly hard that year, and the Solheim Cup player proved more than capable of handling the tricky conditions.
Having not competed in the event last year, Michelle Wie will be looking to make an impact. Although she loves links golf courses and finished an astonishing third at nearby Royal Birkdale in 2005 as an amateur and 26th at Royal Lytham and St Anne's the following year, some suspect the Stanford University student's height might be a handicap if it really blows.
At 5-foot-6, Mexico's Lorena Ochoa might be the right height and, not having won a major since last year, must be hungry. One thing that's fairly sure is that the world No. 1 is unlikely to be far away come the crunch on Sunday afternoon. She is the joint favorite with Cristie Kerr.
One of the shortest competitors is Jiyai Shin. Only 5-foot-1, the reigning champion may well find her lack of inches a distinct advantage. One of 29 Korean competitors, her comparative lack of experience on the dunes, however, may prove a problem. But you don't race to number four in the world without an ability to adapt. Having emphatically demonstrated at Royal Birkdale that she can handle both links golf and the pressure of winning a major, Jeong Jang might be a shrewd bet.
Now that the legendary Annika Sorenstam has hung up her spikes, it could well fall to her youthful Swedish compatriot Anna Nordqvist to lead the European challenge. Not only has she already notched a major triumph by capturing the McDonald's LPGA Championship last year, but she also has the crucial advantage of links' experience, which she gained as an amateur. Or it might be yet another Swede, Sophie Gustafson, twice runner-up in this championship, who gives Europe a timely boost before the Solheim Cup teams are announced Sunday.
European Captain Alison Nicholas and U.S. Captain Beth Daniel will be watching intently as Nicholas has three and Daniel has two wildcard selections to complete their 12-player teams for next month's match in Illinois.
With 10 competitors, Sweden is the joint third best represented country alongside England. The U.S. leads the way with 32, only just in front of Korea. In total, 23 countries have at least one participating player in a particularly strong field that boasts all the top 20 and no fewer than 47 of the world's top 50 women golfers.
None is in better form than Japan's Ai Miyazato, who arrives in Lytham ranked 13th in the world. She jumped 14 places following her victory at the Evian Masters Sunday.
The home fans will look to the evergreen Laura Davies for some excitement, and there will be plenty of sentimental support for Scotland's Catriona Matthew, who gave birth to her second daughter just a couple of month's ago.
July 30, 2009
Although in his 60s, with a handicap of 15 and lifetime earnings comfortably below $100, Clive Agran nevertheless still believes he can win a major. Arguably England's most gifted golf writer, when not dreaming of glory he's scouring the globe simultaneously searching for lost balls and great golf courses.
Anyone looking back at the final scores of the 2009 Ricoh Women's British Open at Royal Lytham and St. Anne's will almost certainly come to the wrong conclusion that this was a comfortable three-shot win for Catriona Matthew. It was anything but as the seemingly imperturbable Scot struggled to hit a fairway throughout the final round and was only rescued by some superb recovery shots and a bunch of astonishing long putts.
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