Scotland’s Catriona Matthew rolled back the years on the links, but it is American Amy Olson who leads after the opening round of the AIG Women’s Open.
At a blustery Royal Troon, with gusts nearing 30 mph for the international field, Olson emerged late in the day to reach four-under-par after an excellent 67 at the first women’s Major of the year.
Olson recorded five birdies and just one dropped shot in a fine display of links golf. The 28-year-old, who has posted two top-10 finishes in the Majors, holds a three-stroke lead over fellow American Marina Alex and Germany’s Sophia Popov.
World number 28 Alex, who tied ninth at the Women’s Open in 2014, recovered from a double bogey at the sixth for her 70. Popov, 27, qualified for the championship through the Marathon Classic just two weeks ago, tied second on the Symetra Tour in Arizona last week and only arrived in Scotland on Tuesday. Two birdies in her last three holes propelled her into contention.
The 2009 champion, Matthew, is in a large group of players on level par (71) after three birdies in her closing four holes.
Well versed in testing links conditions at her North Berwick home, Matthew shrugged off indifferent form to thrive with a new putting grip and lead home hopes. It was impressive from the 50-year-old given she last played Royal Troon competitively as an amateur in 1994.
From the first group of the day, Canadian Alena Sharp also finished on level par. With a grandmother and an uncle born in Scotland, the 39-year-old drew on her heritage as she chases a first Major title.
World number four Nelly Korda battled hard for a one-over-par 72, helped by an eagle at the par-5 16th , the same total as New Zealand’s Lydia Ko. American Lizette Salas and the 2018 Women’s Open champion Georgia Hall are a shot further back after 73s.
Dame Laura Davies, having struck the opening tee shot to mark her 40th appearance in the event, slipped to a nine-over-par 80. Other leading names also found the Ayrshire links a stiff test in the high winds, with 2013 champion Stacy Lewis and England’s Charley Hull among those to post 76s. Lexi Thompson (78), Bronte Law (80), Carly Booth (80) and Celine Boutier (81) also struggled.
Amy Olson, USA
“I mean, the conditions out there honestly were so tough. I’ve said that was the best ball-striking day of my life. I kept the trajectory on every shot what I wanted. My start lines were really good, which was especially important those first nine holes going out into the wind, and my distance control was really good. Where I grew up in North Dakota it gets extremely windy, and so I grew up playing the ball very low. I think that served me very well over here.”
Sophia Popov, Germany
“I honestly just made a lot of really good shots. Especially on the front nine, it was really important with the wind into off the right. It was very tough, and I just picked good spots if I did miss the greens. On the first tee, I said, if I can keep it under five-over par then this is going to be great, and so yeah, with the wind blowing in our faces on No. 1, I honestly didn’t think I was going to come off the 18th green shooting one under par. I’m extremely happy.”
Marina Alex, USA
“It’s my first time here, super exciting. I’ve been kind of looking forward to it for about a year. I’m so excited that we’re playing a lot of the venues that we watch the men play, and I think it’s just awesome to see different styles of golf on the same golf course, and that’s the beauty of links. You don’t need to hit it high or far. Whether you’re a low or a high trajectory golfer, you can figure out how to get your way around the course.”
Catriona Matthew, Scotland
“I think just the experience of having played in this event so often helped. Throughout the years we have had some pretty horrific days, and it’s just to go out there, I think, with the mentality that you just need to hang in. You might get the odd bad break, you might get a few good ones. But I think just hang in and just try and give yourself putts for par. I drove the ball well and putted well. I think that’s probably the two key things you have to do well on days like this.”
Alena Sharp, Canada
“I was thinking at 6.30am we might get away with a little less wind, but when we were warming up it was blowing. I hit my first shot out-of-bounds and made a double on the first hole and it’s not obviously the way I wanted to start the day, but it actually woke me up a little bit and I started playing some good shots. I seem to be one of those wind players later on in my career; I hated playing in the wind before, but now I really enjoy it.”
Georgia Hall, England
“It was very challenging. The wind was so strong, especially on the front nine. I didn’t start off that great, but I was really proud of how I grinded out there. This is about a mental battle this week. Obviously, tomorrow is supposed to be dreadful weather, so anything can happen.”
For further information on the AIG Women’s Open, please visit www.AIGwomensopen.com