Anyone disregarding Catriona Matthew’s chances of winning the Women’s Open has a loose grasp of history. The Scot has previous for delivering extraordinary storylines. Eleven years have passed since she triumphed in this major, within three months of giving birth to her second daughter and days after fleeing a burning hotel.
Now, she merely has professional imbalances to overturn; the 50-year‑old lies 407th in the world rankings. Links golf, though, is a great leveller.
During an opening round where Royal Troon was battered by gusts – more of the same is forecast for day two – Matthew’s level-par 71 was an outstanding performance. Primarily, that is, because she delivered four birdies. A dropped shot at the last could not and should not diminish praise of her fine start. She did not miss a fairway despite the ferocious breeze.
“I don’t know that I’d go out and play on a day like this at home,” she said. “I’d probably sit and look at them and think what idiots they are to go out there and play.
“But I just have the experience of having played in this event so often. Throughout the years we have had some pretty horrific days and it’s just to go out there 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 just hang in and just try and give yourself putts for par.”
Matthew estimated she has not played here since 1994. She did, however, win an amateur event four years earlier. “Coming in here with how I’ve been playing lately, probably making the cut would be good,” she said. “But a day like today, the conditions probably helped me that the scoring is not going to be super low.
“There’s no reason why I can’t go on from here. There’s still a huge way to go, but I just need to keep plugging away.
“It’s amazing, even though it’s 25 years ago, how you do remember a course. I think I’d forgotten how good a course this was.”
It remains curious that as a long-time North Berwick resident and one of Scottish golf’s modern-day success stories Matthew was not invited to join nearby Muirfield when the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers belatedly got round to allowing women to join their club. Maybe that would have been too logical.
Nonetheless, Matthew is well-placed to assess the significance of Muirfield being selected as a Women’s Open venue for 2022. Had such a scenario been floated a decade ago, she “probably wouldn’t have believed it”.
“Muirfield is a great one,” she added. “The men all rave about it. I’ve been lucky enough to play it a few times and really enjoyed it. So that will be one we’re looking forward to.”
AIG Women’s Open first-round leaderboard
1st Amy Olson (US) -4 67
2nd= Sophia Popov (Ger) -1 70
2nd= Marina Alex (US) -1 70
4th= Alena Sharp (Can) Even 71
4th= Catriona Matthew (Sco) Even 71
4th= Emily Kristine Pedersen (Den) Even 71
4th= Lindsey Weaver (US) Even 71
4th= Anna Nordqvist (Swe) Even 71
4th= Gaby López (Mex) Even 71
4th= Jasmine Suwannapura (Tha) Even 71
4th= Nuria Iturrioz (Sp) Even 71
4th= Lee-Ann Pace (SA) Even 71
4th= Dani Holmqvist (Swe) Even 71
14th= Chun In-gee (Kor) +1 72
14th= Austin Ernst (US) +1 72
14th= Katherine Kirk (Aus) +1 72
14th= Lydia Ko (NZ) +1 72
14th= Nelly Korda (US) +1 72
14th= Alison Lee (US) +1 72
14th= Caroline Masson (Ger) +1 72
14th= Yealimi Noh (US) +1 72
23rd= Jodie Ewart Shadoff (Eng) +2 73
23rd= Georgia Hall (Eng) +2 73
23rd= Laura Fuenfstueck (Ger) +2 73
23rd= Johanna Gustavsson (Swe) +2 73
23rd= Ariya Jutanugarn (Tha) +2 73
23rd= Stephanie Kyriacou (Aus) +2 73
23rd= Lizette Salas (US) +2 73
23rd= Angela Stanford (US) +2 73
23rd= Amy Yang (Kor) +2 73
At just 22, Nelly Korda is at the opposite end of the age and experience scale. Perhaps her fortitude should not be a surprise from the daughter of Petr Korda, a former grand slam tennis champion, but the Floridian bravely battled the elements before signing for a 72. Her tee shot at the 1st, a lashed driver, travelled 187 yards.
“You have to kind of build it [mental toughness] up within yourself as well,” she said. “But the way we grew up and the way our parents raised us, they incorporated that mentality.
“I like to grind through things. I don’t give up. It’s going to be a hard week, but it’s a lot of fun to play in this type of weather.
“My caddie kept reminding me that I’m going to make mistakes, but everyone’s playing through this weather and you’ve just got to stay patient and just take it shot by shot. Find your ball, hit it again. That’s my mentality this week.”
Korda’s sister, Jessica, withdrew before the opening round for what she described as “medical reasons that are not Covid-19 related”.
Amy Olson was one over after three but a stirring response from the American enabled her to produce a four-under-par 67 to claim the lead. Charley Hull, who started the week bemoaning the unfairness of links golf, is unlikely to have changed her attitude after a 76. She did not birdie a single hole. Georgia Hall recovered admirably from bogeys on the opening two holes in posting a 73.
Laura Davies, afforded the honour of hitting the opening tee shot on her 40th Women’s Open start, struck the ball another 79 times.