An eagle 3 on the 11th followed immediately by a hole in one helped Catriona Matthew to come home in a miserly 30 shots and grab a share of the lead at the halfway stage of the Ricoh Women's British Open at Royal Lytham and St. Anne's Golf Club.
Two over after the first round and 4-over at the turn, there was nothing to suggest that anything untoward was about to happen. But then came the back-to-back eagles and the birdies that followed at 13, 15 and 18 that gave the home crowd plenty to cheer. A bogey on the 17th, when the Scot failed to get up and down from a greenside bunker, was the only blemish on what is the best back nine ever recorded in competition on this famous old course.
"Seven under is certainly the lowest I've ever scored for nine holes, and I've never had back-to-back eagles before," revealed Matthew, who is playing in only her second tournament since giving birth to her second daughter. "I've been practicing on links courses to get back into shape so that might have helped. The strategy here is to be very patient, keep it out of the rough and the bunkers, even if that means not hitting the ball so far and playing a longer approach."
Matthew clearly knows how to conquer the course as she captured the British Ladies Amateur Championship here in 1993.
Matthew was soon joined at 3-under by Giulia Sergas, who also began the day at 2-over and shot 67. Her score was similarly made on the back nine where she recorded four consecutive birdies from the 13th. The Italian, who nowadays plies her trade exclusively in the U.S. and will have to rely on a captain's pick if she's to make the European Solheim Cup team, recorded the only bogey-free round of the championship so far.
The wind, which had eased a knot or two from yesterday, blew from the south-east instead of the west. This reversal completely changed the character of the course and rendered the front nine tougher than the back.
Overnight leader Sandra Gal clearly preferred it the way it was before, as the German rapidly slipped down the leaderboard and finished the day 5-over. Although she began her round with a birdie, Angela Stanford bogeyed the second and tripled the third and also dropped back from an overnight share of second to finish five shots off the pace.
The three Korean members of the exclusive group of five who went to bed under par, fared somewhat better. Song-Hee Kim was joint leader at 3-under for a while before bogeying the last two holes. Despite an ugly 7 at the sixth, Yuko Mitsuka went in 1-under and is just a shot off the lead, while Hee Young Park, who had the worst of the weather, slipped back in the evening rain to 2-over par.
Defending champion Jiyai Shin, who was 5-over after the opening round, wasn't about to relinquish her title without a struggle, and a 71 leaves her within striking distance of the leaders at 4-over.
Michelle Wie was going okay before tangling with a fairway bunker up the last. She failed to escape the first time, double bogeyed and slipped to 5-over for the championship.
World No. 1 Loreno Ochoa is another unexpected struggler. The Mexican followed her unspectacular first round 75 with an even more uninspiring 77 and just made the cut with a shot to spare. Overnight leader Sandra Gal went rapidly into reverse, shot 80 and finished 5-over.
Europe's No. 1, Sophie Gustafason, is a redoubtable competitor and could be in the hunt come Sunday afternoon. Five shots off the pace after an opening 74, the former British Open champion double bogeyed the first and dropped another shot at the third before fighting back with four birdies in five holes around the turn. The Swede signed for a 71 and is only four shots back. Her opposite number in the States, Cristie Kerr, also made a significant move up the leaderboard and is 3-over at the halfway stage, also after a solid 71.
Norway's not renowned for producing quality golfers, but Marianne Skapnord registered five birdies in a brilliant back nine 33 for a 69 that left her just 1-over for the tournament.
As we head into the weekend, there are only four players below par and a further three - Yani Tseng, of Taiwan, Christina Kim, of the U.S., and Kyeong Bae, of Korea - who are level.
Among the famous names who won't be here are Natalie Gulbis, Judy Inkster and past champions, Helen Alfredsson and Karen Stupples.
August 1, 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. Follow Clive on Twitter at @cliveagran.
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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